New Tarheel ChalleNGe Director passionate about ‘changing,’ ‘saving’ struggling youth

A “higher calling” and a servant’s heart is what retired Colonel Edward W. Timmons, Sr. said led him to Salemburg to serve as the new director of the North Carolina National Guard’s Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy.

“I was retired only 98 days when the position became available,” he shared in an interview Wednesday. Once chosen for the position, Timmons officially took responsibility for all of the planning, coordination, and operation of the academy’s youth program in late November 2013.

Born overseas to a military family, Timmons was a “military brat,” moving with his family wherever his father was stationed. “I’ve got roots in North and South Carolina though,” he said, mentioning that the last place his father was stationed was in Fayetteville at Ft. Bragg. The family chose to stay in North Carolina following his father’s retirement, and Timmons attended high school in Fayetteville and then college at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he was involved in the ROTC program and played basketball on scholarship. He graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice; later, he also earned his Master’s in Administration of Justice and Management from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Timmons joined the military, and he came to the director’s chair at Tarheel ChalleNGe with a wealth of knowledge and leadership experience under his belt. As part of his military education, he completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Armor Officer Advanced Course, the Regional Studies Course, and the Psychological Operations Course, successfully participating in the Defense Equal Opportunity Institute, and the United States Army Command and General Staff College.

During his 32 years in the United States Army, he was deployed multiple times and held a variety of command and staff positions, earning numerous military awards and honors. Before retiring and coming to Tarheel ChalleNGe, he served as the senior army adviser to the Adjutant General for the North Carolina Army National Guard.

When asked about his decision to come out of retirement and lead Tarheel ChalleNGe, Timmons shared that his decision stemmed from a deep desire to serve others. “It’s about giving back to society. It’s not just about the work and the job,” he stressed. “I want to continue to do while I’m physically and mentally able,” adding that later in life, whether he’s in a hospital bed or in a rocking chair, he wants to know that he served well. To Timmons, giving back in his new position as director means “changing lives and saving lives.”

“This is a second chance program,” he said of Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy, explaining that it is a place where 16 to 18 year old high school drop-outs or those who have been expelled can voluntarily come to receive help with getting their lives back on track. “My vision is to make this, if not the best, one of the premier academies for the 21st century,” he said, pointing out that data he has shows that “there are over 21,000 high school drop-outs in North Carolina ever year.” “I see those as lost lives and souls, and we know that there’s a strong correlation between high school drop-outs who, without education, get involved in all the negatives.” “We want to help them become productive members of the community and society,” he added, stressing that “I clearly understand the magnitude of the problem and that’s why I’m so passionate about our mission.”

Over its 18 years, the federally mandated program at Tarheel ChalleNGe has made much progress on its mission, graduating 3,806 cadets as of December 2013. Those who leave the academy do so with improved life coping skills, an awareness of their responsibilities as state and U.S. citizens, job skills, good overall physical fitness and health awareness, leadership and followership abilities, academic excellence, and with experience in serving the community. However, Timmons wants to accomplish that and more — and with more youth.

“We’re the only public, statewide, quasi-military-based school in North Carolina. There are over 600 high schools, 700 private school, and 127 charter schools in North Carolina and none of them do what we do,” he explained. “We’re not competition for the other schools but when they have a student drop-out or be expelled, we want them to share our information with that student and the family.” “I want to see us bursting at the seams,” he continued, noting that currently there are 161 cadets at the academy and some 14 more expected to join very soon.

Although acknowledging that it will be “no easy feat,” Timmons is certain that he and his staff up to the challenges associated with admitting more youth into the program. “Every employee is hand-picked, and we have some of the best teachers and staff that anyone can have,” he praised, noting that his staff know their duties well and know the expectations of their “very visible” and “very hands-on” leader. “I’m a visionary and I think strategically; I come in extremely focused and charged everyday. To me, we’re not afforded the same mistakes that others make. If we can’t get it right then we can’t expect them (the youth) to.”

For Timmons, reaching those youth who are struggling is top priority and well worth all the effort. “These young men and women are smart; they’re already survivors,” he noted.” They just may not have had the same values that you and I were raised with.” “The students are the crown jewels that we’ve been entrusted with,” continued Timmons, adding that with each one that successfully leaves the program “that’s one more jewel in the crown.”