Roger Lotson, a McIntosh County resident, recently earned the recognition of 2018 National Youth Challenge Director of the Year. He will travel up to the State Capitol on March 14 to be recognized for the award in front of the Georgia House of Representatives.
Lotson is the director of the Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy, a quasi-military program for at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 18 years old.
The Director of the Year award recognizes the work he’s done to make a difference in these students’ lives.
The 22-week residential program provides an alternative education opportunity to students aiming to better themselves.
“The young people come for varying reasons — some because they’ve gotten behind academically, some wanting to get away from their environment,” Lotson said. “Some have gotten into trouble and they wanted to get their life back together.”
Through the program, students can get a GED or a high school diploma.
“It’s a well-rounded program,” Lotson said. “In addition to the academics, we have the physical fitness piece of it. Religious services are offered to them.”
Participants also earn life skills that prepare them to be successful adults, Lotson said.
“We have some vocational training as well to help them be better prepared to get a good job once they leave,” he said. “They can take some college courses while they’re there as well. And some of them are eligible and join the military, although it’s not a military recruitment tool.”
The program is run mostly by people who’ve retired from the military. Lotson, a McIntosh County Academy graduate, joined the Navy immediately after high school. He retired as a naval officer after 22 years.
“We use the military training as a model, where they get up early in the morning and do physical training, in addition to the academics,” he said.
Many people who work for the program do so to give back to the youth, Lotson said.
“Many of the staff have had some difficult times coming up, and they want to pay it forward,” he said. “We see these young people that have so much potential, but due to circumstances beyond their control they find themselves in difficult situations that are interfering with their success.”
The program tracks its participants for a year after they graduate. Eighty percent are either in school, working, in the military or doing productive volunteer work a year after their graduation, Lotson said.
Georgia has graduated 15,000 young people from the state’s three youth challenge program. Across the nation, 150,000 people have graduated from the country’s 40 youth challenge programs.
“We represent 10 percent of all graduates,” Lotson said.
The National Youth Challenge Director of the Year award recognizes its recipients for their contributions to the program, their leadership abilities and the effectiveness of the program they run.
“It’s always good to be recognized for what you do,” Lotson said. “But equally important, it brings notoriety to the Georgia program … this highlighted all of the programs in the state. It helped recognize the hard working people that I have at my campus.”