Preparing strong, confident, responsible young people to be better members of their community
Saturday evening, 29 young men were honored for enduring a 10-week course known as the Spartan Challenge. Families, friends, and former “graduates” were in the audience at the Church of Truth in Vancouver. Previous “graduates” were also working hard behind the scenes, helping to coordinate the event. A total of 30 young men ages 12-18 had completed the course.
The Spartan Challenge was 10 weeks of military-style training. Every Saturday, it began at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. There was plenty of physical conditioning — pull ups, push ups, sit ups, running, running with a 30-pound backpack, and much more. A military drill instructor was barking commands, always demanding “more.” A chaplain was there to build them up and encourage them with “hang in there” and “you can do this!”
Mental toughness and self discipline were keys to success. Life skills were also taught. How to be part of a team and work together. Taking responsibility for yourself, and then helping others were critical parts of the training.
Andrey Ivanov leads the program with several other former military members who provide instruction and mentorship for the youth. “The military knows how to build leaders,” he said. Previous graduates of the Spartan Challenge also provide leadership and support roles in the organization.
He shared the story of a young man he met several years ago through a social worker. “We have tried everything” the social worker said, describing the youth who had been in the hospital, and who had multiple interactions with law enforcement. He was filled with rage, aggression, and anger, according to Ivanov.
The young man was being offered one “final chance.” Otherwise it was incarceration or some type of an asylum that would essentially end all hope for him leading a happy, productive life.
The 15-year-old young man was enrolled in Ivanov’s first version of what would become the Spartan Challenge. He responded positively to the discipline and direction and guidance. He was placed in a leadership position, as the oldest of the small group of youth. As he focused on taking care of others, he stopped causing problems for himself.
Today, the young man is in his early 20’s. He is happily married and now has a baby on the way. He has bought a house and is a productive member of society.
The Spartan Challenge’s roots were created almost a decade ago, as Andrey Ivanov and Paul Girard started a grassroots organization known as Flash Love. They capitalized on the “flash mob” phenomenon where groups of musicians invaded public spaces like malls, singing songs or playing mini concerts. But Flash Love sought to bring youth into neighborhoods that were run down. They desired to be a force for good in our community.
They offered conversation and help making repairs and cleaning up homes and trashy neighborhoods — making their corner of the community a better place. They cleaned up graffiti as well.
There was a need to offer young boys role models in how to be responsible men. “Send me” was part of what they learned in volunteering to serve others.
Ivanhov was asked “why create Flash Love or the Spartan Challenge?’’
“Ninety-five percent of all incarcerated persons in the USA are men between the ages of 15 to 25 that come from a home without a father and who have some degree of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD),” he said. “This is a multi-generational issue that causes youth to lose the power to make good choices.”
They have mothers between the ages of 15 and 24 who are the poorest people in America, according to Ivanov. “The solution is to raise young mothers out of poverty and teach young men to be functional, successful and Christ-like fathers and mothers.”
The Spartan Challenge graduation ceremony included a fast-paced video showing highlights of the 10 weeks of training. Andrey Ivanov shared information and perspective on the creation of the program and his motivation to help be a force for positive change in our community. Video courtesy Spartan Challenge and John Ley
“We are training youth who will take responsibility, restore order and raise strong families,” he said. “Good men care for mothers so they can have the power of choice. Healthy and secure mothers raise healthy babies. Healthy babies grow up with an ability to make good decisions and break the chain of the prison system which enslaves almost three million people in the U.S. alone.”
But the program is no longer only for young men. Cheri Anderson successfully completed the previous course and now serves as inspiration for other women. She was “in her fourth decade” and joined to learn self defense tactics and improve her self confidence. Ivanov indicated there are a couple young women seeking to join the upcoming class.
They were also taught some life skills. Not only self defense and physical conditioning, but how to change a tire on a car, how to provide first aid, how to start a fire and more were part of the curriculum. There are opportunities to learn potential career skills in the trades of construction.
Two women shared stories of the impact the Spartan Challenge had on their families.
“This has been one of the hardest things that we have endured, in our family,” said Tammy Walker. “It’s been 10 weeks; seven weeks of it was crying and calling for help. I wanted to thank Sergeant Mo and Sergeant Franke because I had to come to you and ask you to help me not quit. This was one of the most powerful experiences.”
Walker spoke of her son conquering his fear of heights. He is a quiet person who became attracted to the camaraderie. “They were respectful and kind to each other,” she said. “We’ve lost so much of that in today’s generation.”
“It was just really awesome,” Walker shared. The family was there at the final bonfire on the beach, celebrating Riley’s successful completion of a program he had wanted to quit several times. Perseverance and persistence were definitely part of the lessons.
Emily Wharton is a home-school mom who told a different tale. She and her son were at a local coffee shop and overheard Ivanov talking with a local pastor about current problems in our community. Her son Luke said ‘I bet you want to go talk with him’, noting his mother’s interest. They did.
“I agree with everything you say,” Wharton told Ivanov. “But what are you doing about it?”
“Little did I know,” she said. “He proceeded to tell me about his two-year plan to restore and transform our community. And then he looked at my son. And he said, by working with guys like this. He captured my son’s heart right there.”
When they left, Luke told his mom, “that was providential.” She agreed.
“I have a vision for my kids to change the world in the name of Jesus,” Wharton shared. “So to have found Andre, to partner with parents who want to do what my husband and I want to do was a gift. Training boys to be men requires a lot of countercultural messaging,”
“The first day was brutal,” she said. “After the first day, my son said to me, ‘Mom, you don’t understand. They look at you like they want to kill you.’ But I watched as he embraced and rose to the challenge. He grew and matured exponentially.”
“I believe this is just the beginning for all of these boys, these young men,” Walker shared. “It’s boot camp, to train them for the real work of changing the world for Christ. So to Andre and all the other real men involved in this good work, I say thank you and God bless you.”
Three young men were recognized after each had a moment in the spotlight, receiving a framed certification of completion and handshakes from two instructors. Caleb Dobos was the “most improved;” Michael Brown was recognized as the “iron man” for the best fitness; and Benjamin Vangelder was the Honor Grad, for his leadership
At the end of the ceremony, there was a special acknowledgement of the efforts of Sergeant Major Andrew Moceo (Marine). Sergeant “Mo” has been a critical piece of the program’s success for the past two years. He is moving out of state to be with family. There was an informal “change of command” recognizing his contributions.
The graduates of the fifth Spartan Challenge class are as follows:
Michael Brown, Evan Martin, Luke Wharton, James Maret, David Vasquez, Mark Rozvodovskiy, Daniel Rozvodovskiy, Peter Yeakle, Jorge Fuerte, Tobias Peterson, Willy Seiders, Benjamin Vangelder, Andrew Peterson, Trevor Thrasher, Sylas Ledesma, Johnathan Jarvis, Trevor Sullivan, Anthony Rezunenko, Samsun Padillas, Riley Walker, Brandon Onofrei, Josiah Mask, Caleb Dobos, Andrew Maret, Ivan Storment, Julian Dobos, Igor Vergulyanets, Nicolay Vasquez, Anthony Delavar, Alex Garcia.
Instructors and advisors to the class were:
Andrew Moceo, Casey Fox, Joe McLemore, David Franke, Taylor Wilkerson, Andrey Ivanov, Aidan McKinley, Max Bahnyuk, Greg Noelck (chaplain)
The next class will begin the first weekend in May. Check out the website here for details.