During the 1990's, the Rockefeller Foundation saw the need to provide opportunities for young people in the United States working to overcome problems in their lives. In 1991 the Joint Armed Services Committee directed the National Guard to determine how best to add value to America by providing value, skills, education and self-discipline to young people while incorporating the structure and esprit de corps found in the military model. A five-year ChalleNGe Pilot Program began operating in 1993 in 10 states under Public Law 102-484. ChalleNGe has since been embraced by more than 27 states.
The Maryland Freestate ChalleNGe Academy is one of the 10 original states to begin a ChalleNGe Program. It is endorsed by the State of Maryland and is in a cooperative agreement between The Maryland National Guard and the National Guard Bureau. The academy is located on Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, Maryland. The Academy is a tuition-free program which offers at-risk adolescents 16 to 18 years old an opportunity to change their future, for the better by providing the skills, education and self-discipline needed to become responsible, productive citizens. The initial program consists of a 22-week residential phase. During this phase the cadets learn self-discipline, leadership and responsibility. Participants live and work in a controlled military environment, encouraging teamwork and personal growth. A 12-month post-residential phase focuses on helping enroll graduates in continued education, technical school programs or entry-level employment. During the post-residential phase, students are assisted by at least one trained mentor from the community for further development.
The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, does not exclude any person based upon race, color, national origin, gender or religion.