Washington Youth Academy looking for a few good men — and women

J.D. Willett drags a dummy as part of the agility test for potential Washington Youth Academy employees who will work with at-risk youth to help redirect their lives. - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
J.D. Willett drags a dummy as part of the agility test for potential Washington Youth Academy employees who will work with at-risk youth to help redirect their lives.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

At the National Guard Readiness Center in Bremerton, where the Washington Youth Academy will officially open in 2009, piles of dirt and a hole in the ground are taking shape in the form of a fully functional, working staff.

When local and state dignitaries broke ground on the project in March, the youth academy was merely a vision to be modeled after the 34 programs of its kind across the country.

Established under the authority of both federal and state law, the state-run residential and post-residential program offers at-risk youths ages 16-19 — many of whom are high school dropouts — a chance to redirect their lives. It is part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program.

“The mission of the Washington Youth Academy is to provide a highly disciplined, safe and professional environment that empowers at-risk youth to improve their educational level and employment potential and become responsible and productive citizens of the state of Washington,” according to the academy.

Now, the already hired staff is working to fill vacant positions and get the academy one step closer to opening.

Cadre testing Aug. 19, the second such screening process, attracted 12 potential employees.

The agility test calls for aspiring cadres to run up a flight of stairs, drag a 145-pound dummy, crawl on their bellies and run 15 consecutive minutes. Not timed, the test stresses stability and real-life safety skills.

“We’re finding that we’re having a really good pass rate on the agility test,” said Laura Drybread, human resources director for the state’s military department. “It’s not a difficult process, but the things we’re asking them to do are things they’ll have to do on a daily basis.”

Many of the Aug. 19 attendees were locals, either from Kitsap County or Pierce County.

“This youth academy, I believe, will help with employment in the area,” Drybread said. “What we’re looking for is people who are passionate about helping kids’ lives.”

Those hired will play an integral role in teaching the program’s core components — leadership, responsible citizenship, academic excellence, job skills, life coping skills, health and hygiene, service to the community and physical fitness.

With a quasi-military approach, the co-educational program is designed to teach youths real-life skills through firm, directional teaching.

“We want to expand the pool (of applicants) so we can select the best of the best,” Drybread said of the hiring process. “We’re absolutely on target.”

Drybread said there will be additional cadre testing opportunities and all job openings are posted online at

Commandant Abe Gilman, who administered the agility test, said he is looking to build a diverse, dedicated team. While some candidates might be strong physically, others might have a firm grasp on how to teach. Blending skills together, Gilman said, is critical in creating a solid team.

“We’re hoping to build a team that is very diverse,” he said.

One of those team members is David Layne, who moved to Washington from Louisiana after being hired. Layne worked at Louisiana’s Youth Challenge Program and discovered a passion for helping kids.

“My biggest day is when they walk across the stage (and graduate),” he said. “That’s when I know I’ve done something.”

The 12 prospects who turned out Aug. 19 all share an eagerness to work with youths, including Blaine Brooks, of Bremerton.

“It’s just a great program, to be able to make a difference. It’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s great to be right here in Bremerton, the people are really nice here. It’s nice to have it here in our own backyard.”

For information or to apply, contact the Washington Youth Academy at (877) 288-8947.

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