By Maj. Christina Hoggatt
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Since 2005, more than 75 Airmen from Schriever AFB, Peterson AFB, and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, have been volunteering to support the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado Youth Leadership Training program to educate and mentor more than 600 at-risk teenagers.
According to Tracey Tomme, CLCC President and CEO, the Air Force volunteers are the cornerstone of the mentorship program, the CLCC YLT is a two-day mentorship program, broken down into a professional development day followed by a space-based flying mission day, where participants are guided through a series of fast-paced dynamic scenarios and simulations. The program is geared toward multi-barrier, at-risk teenagers who are striving to become contributing citizens.
“The entire success of our program falls on our military volunteers,” Tomme said. “The fact of the matter is the military volunteers are a vital and critical piece of the program. We could not be successful without them.”
Many of the military volunteers come from underprivileged backgrounds and can show the young participants what it takes to survive and become successful even when the odds are stacked against them.
“The military volunteers bring professionalism, candor and direct understanding about what these participants are currently going through,” Tomme said. “They speak their language and are direct evidence that with hard work, discipline and courage that they too can become a positive, professional, contributing member of society.”
Senior Master Sgt. Jacob Simmons, 50th Operations Support Squadron superintendant, is the military volunteer coordinator for the CLCC YLT program.
“In addition to the CLCC staff, to be successful each Youth Leadership Training session requires about five to six space industry mentors; that is where we come in,” Simmons said. “Our Airmen are hungry for opportunities to share their experiences, showcase their knowledge and expertise, and utilize the leadership skills they’ve developed.”
The volunteers support multiple tasks, such as facilitating mock NASA interviews including constructive feedback sessions, talking about career experiences and overcoming social obstacles, coaching youth through leadership activities, and teaming up as crewmembers on International Space Station mission challenges in CLCC’s world class simulator.
“Our volunteers get the chance to share major life challenges faced and how they’ve overcome them, why they joined and why they stayed in the military, and the greatest lessons learned along the way,” Simmons said. “I have found no other program that allows military space professionals to extend our daily mission directly into improving the future of our youth. Everything we’ve learned in the service is laid out on the table in front of twenty-plus skeptical teenagers, who believe they’ve been left behind, but this gives us a chance to make an argument that we are ready to invest in them.”
CLCC is a non-profit organization that provides a space-based learning environment and works with multiple programs throughout the Colorado Springs area to find interested teens to participate in the training sessions. The different programs include Pikes Peak Workforce Center, multiple juvenile delinquent centers, incarcerated student groups and several others.
Each CLCC YLT session presents a unique mix of participants that can include impoverished teens, special needs youth, recovering juveniles, and teens deprived of positive role models. Additionally, abused, battered, isolated and exploited youth also participate. Each participating teen volunteers to join the program in order to improve their odds of becoming a contributing member of society, attain needed professional development, and possibly find their niche in the world.
“In my opinion, we (Airmen) gain as much, if not more from this extraordinary experience,” Simmons said. “These incredible, but neglected youth are in awe of what our youngest Airmen have accomplished in the military and hang on every word they say as if it were their own roadmap or recipe to success. We know, without a doubt, that we’re making a difference in their future. It’s an awesome responsibility.”
According to Tomme, each CLCC YLT session strives to stretch the participating youth’s communication capabilities, teach team building, planning, problem-solving, and critical decision making skills, as well as self-value and worth.
“Military-led mentoring programs are devoted to inspiring young people to learn and explore past the heights of their imaginations,” Simmons said. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime for these teens who are just trying to find an open door or two. With the support of CLCC and our military mentors, these overlooked and underappreciated teens come out of their shells and prove how intelligent and motivated they really are.
“These youth have dreams, but chances have been scarce,” Simmons continued. “They have vision, but are looking for direction. They’re not looking for a handout, they just need a hand.”