Harlan, KY. – Joshua Ball, associate executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR), was honored with the Champion of Challenge award at the graduation ceremony of the 15th class of the Appalachian Challenge Academy on Saturday, December 21 at James A. Cawood Elementary School in Harlan, Ky.
The Appalachian Challenge Academy is a part of a national program operated by the National Guard that intervenes to assist 16-18-year-old high school students who have dropped out of school or are the verge of dropping out of the school. The 22-week program focuses on values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.
Ball began working with the Appalachian Challenge Academy shortly after he began working at SOAR in 2017. After meeting with the leadership team of the Academy, he learned of its desire to incorporate career and technical training to the toolbox of services for cadets. He connected the Academy’s leadership team with Southeast Community and Technical College, a part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (a Founding Partner of SOAR).
Dr. Vic Adams, the president and CEO of Southeast Community and Technical College, and Dr. Joel Michaelis, the college’s chief academic officer, quickly began discussing ways to further incorporate the college into the Academy.
“I met Vic Adams years ago, and I quickly learned that his top priority is students,” said Ball. “It is easy to look at situations and immediately look at barriers, but Vic and Joel never looked at it that way. From day one, this was an opportunity, and we all committed to seize this opportunity and see it through.”
During the graduation ceremony on December 21, 2019, 25 cadets graduated the program with a fiber optics credential and national certification through the partnership between the Appalachian Challenge Academy and Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.
Since first visiting the Appalachian Challenge Academy, Ball drops in from time to time to visit cadets and the team. The collaboration with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College hit home during a visit to the Academy in November 2019. He met an 18-year-old cadet who was finishing up his fiber optics certification. When the cadet entered the Academy, he was adamant that he was leaving the day he turned 18.
He didn’t leave. That same cadet walked across the stage at the James A. Cawood Elementary School with his fiber optics credential and certification.
“That is what is all about,” Ball added. “While our work is comprehensive and broad, it is stories like this that hit home. When these cadets walk through the doors of the Appalachian Challenge Academy, they are facing many challenges. When they leave the Academy, they have a world of opportunity in front of them. To know that I have played a very small role in this is rewarding.”