Dr. Neal McCollum
Thunderbird Youth Academy, Pryor
Dr. Neal McCollum, an Oklahoma City physician, has been a mentor for more than a year to two young men, Thomas, 19, and Michael, 17, from Thunderbird Youth Academy in Pryor and continues to help them succeed in their life after completing the program.
The Thunderbird Youth Academy, a program of the Oklahoma National Guard and the Oklahoma Military Department, provides high school drop outs ages 16 to 19 the opportunity to gain control over their lives. The program utilizes a structured approach to self-discipline, improving self-esteem and physical fitness, thereby addressing the needs of the “whole person.” One of the most important requirements for each participant is to have at least one mentor. During the 22-week Academy, volunteer mentors connect with students through emails, letters and scheduled visits to the Pryor campus. After graduation, mentors help ease the graduate’s transition back into his or her community and help the student stay on track with life goals.
Tyana Whiteis, a case manager for the program, said Dr. McCollum has gone above and beyond the program requirements, visiting the students during every “visitor” day when they were living on campus and reporting to staff each month about his contacts with the young men.
“Dr. McCollum has helped both his cadets on their future path and kept them on track with the goals they set while here at Thunderbird,” Whiteis said, noting that Michael is now the youngest manager at his job, and Thomas is completing a Job Corps assignment and plans to enlist in the military when he is finished.
One of his mentees said he enjoyed going out to eat with McCollum and hearing his advice and “amazing stories.” “He’s helped in so many ways keeping me on my path and teaching me how to have a strong work ethic,” the young man said.
Whiteis said she is inspired by how much Thomas and Michael have grown and continue to flourish because of McCollum’s support. “It warms my heart the way the cadets speak of him,” she said. “They’ve truly developed a lasting relationship with their mentor.”
About the Program: Thunderbird Youth Academy’s mission is to intervene in the lives of Oklahoma High School dropouts to affect positive change in those youth. The program challenges students physically, emotionally and educationally; teaches respect for self, others and community; and helps students meet educational goals through GED, high school credits, life-skills training and college courses.