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Importance of a Second Chance
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Second chances have drastically saved me throughout my life. From birth, up until now I have been given chances. Whether it is just one or multiple, I have been blessed with people seeing the potential I have when I wasn't able to see it. Being offered a second chance is very important to me.

Without chances to start over or fix something I have messed up, I am not quite sure where I would be today.

My name is Cadet Erica Minkoff. I am 17 years old. I took my first breath July 16, 1993. I was born and raised in Decatur and currently reside in Conyers. I was adopted at birth and have been with my adopted parents since the day I was born and left the hospital. To this day, my biological mother has two other children, and she does not have custody either. I am not involved in my sibling's lives due to their staying with their fathers. I have not seen my brother who is 6 since he was 1, and my sister who is 14, since she was just a few months. I want to be actively involved in their lives to be a role model for them and to help keep them from making negative decisions. Besides our separation, if it weren't for my adoptive parents and my siblings' fathers, we wouldn't have a second chance at a better life.

Growing up and becoming a teenager, I lived life in the fast lane. Skipping or not even going to school, I was always around the wrong crowd. I thought I was invincible and would never get caught because I never did. I put my so-called friends, boys, drugs and partying first. I discovered myself slowly, but surely, following in my biological mother's disgraceful footsteps. I always used to tell myself I would never be like her. After eventually getting involved with the law because my parents were finally tired of my rebellious ways and getting put in Youth Detention Center twice, it really set in hard. I knew I crossed the line and a huge change in my life was long overdue.

After being put on juvenile probation, everything I never got caught doing was coming to light. The next thing I knew I was on my third violation which happened to be my last. My probation officer gave me a choice. She told me I could come to Youth ChalleNGe Academy or I was looking at jail time until I turned 18. Of course without a doubt in my mind I chose YCA. Not knowing about YCA, I came into the program with an "I don't care attitude." Even though I didn't plan to get into any trouble and cause problems while I was there, I originally just wanted my GED and to leave so I didn't have to worry about being on probation or being incarcerated.

Surprisingly, YCA changed me. I have learned to appreciate my life and my parents. Coming to YCA got me out of the streets and away from all the negative aspects that were taking a hard toll on my life. I have learned so many lessons and look at ChalleNGe as a blessing in disguise.

I have made a drastic change in a considerable amount of time. Youth ChalleNGe Academy has not only opened my eyes but also doors in my life so I could achieve positive things such as college and the military. I can't stress enough how thankful I am for everyone in this program who helped, motivated and inspired me to keep going and succeed.

I am so very proud to say I am turning into the young lady I am supposed to be. It feels so good to know my parents and loved ones are so very proud of me. Second chances are important for everyone. For me, Youth ChalleNGe Academy was my second chance for a productive, successful future.