CLAUDIA THOSS, FAMILY RELATIONS MANAGER
As the “voice” representing the staff members and students at Gateway, Claudia Thoss corresponds with parents on a weekly basis, sending student evaluations, notices of counseling appointments, and any pertinent information regarding a cadet’s progress. Teaming with the Program Manager and the biblical counselors, Claudia ensures a consistent stream of communication with our students’ parents.
Claudia was raised in East Germany by a godly mom who, in spite of an alcoholic husband, taught Claudia and her brother to grow in personal faith. It was difficult losing her father at the age of 14.
As a young teen, Claudia involved herself with mission teams, ministering to youth in churches all over Germany. As she learned that her faith was to be lived “alive”, Claudia found relief from the pain and anger resulting from the loss of her father.
While attending the University of Fulda in Germany, Claudia was introduced to the ministry of Teen Challenge. A six-month internship with Los Angeles Teen Challenge confirmed her passion for working with youth. She returned to Germany to complete her degree in social work, with a focus on education, community outreach and cultural education. Ms. Thoss became involved in an outreach directed toward “skinhead” teens.
In 2002, God opened the door for Claudia to return to Los Angeles Teen Challenge ministries and eventually marry her husband, Raul Cornejo. Together they have embarked through a newly opened door of opportunity at Gateway Military Academy in 2011.
SAM THOMAS, MATH TEACHER
Although born in New York, Sam Thomas was raised in Florida. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics in 2006 from Southeastern University, Lakeland. After graduating college, Sam taught math for one year at a private Christian school in Central Florida. Mr. Thomas pursued his Master’s Degree in Mathematics at the University of South Florida, where he worked as an assistant professor teaching trigonometry.
In 2007, Sam married his high school sweetheart, Kristina, who serves as our resident RN. Together they joined the teaching staff of Gateway Military Academy in 2009. He is the proud father of Hannah Noel, born just before Christmas 2011.
Sam serves not only as a classroom teacher, but also tutors in upper level mathematics. When not in the classroom, Mr. Thomas is often accompanying the Gateway Lions basketball team to their “away” games.
JOHN TAYLOR, TEACHER
John Taylor is a native of Bascom, Florida. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science Education from Troy University in Dothan, Alabama. John currently holds Florida teaching certification in middle school grades for Language Arts, Social Science, Science, and Reading. He is also certified in secondary education for geography, economics, history, political science, science, reading endorsement grades 6-12, and exceptional student education.
Mr. Taylor’s teaching experience includes Eckerd Youth Alternative Center, Blakely, Georgia, Grand Ridge Middle School, Grand Ridge, Florida, and the North Florida Youth Development Center in Marianna, Florida. In 2010, John briefly worked as a Social Service Counselor for the State of Florida.
In July 2011, John joined Gateway Military Academy. He believes his calling is to work with young people, helping them to reach their full potential and direction in life, following biblical principles of leadership.
Mr. Taylor’s favorite pastimes are hunting, fishing, and raising farm animals on his 40 acres in northwest Florida. John has been married to his wife, Teresa, for 11 years.
KRISTINA THOMAS, RESIDENT REGISTERED NURSE (RN)
Kristina Thomas serves the student body as the on-call resident RN. She received her BSN degree in 2006 from Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia. Her previous work experience in pediatrics included 4 years experience in a private primary care office, one year at Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, Florida, and two years with the Hillsborough County Department of Health- primary care services.
Mrs. Thomas has a passion for health education and preventative medicine, and strives to maintain the health of our student body, as well as prepare boys to care for themselves as they approach adulthood. Kristina oversees the administration of all prescription medications and attends to all student medical requests. Individual doctor appointments are coordinated with parents for outside medical care. Mrs. Thomas advises in areas of nutritional and safety aspects of Gateway Military Academy.
BILLY RICE, CHAPLAIN AND STUDENT PROGRAM MANAGER
As a graduate of Riverside California Teen Challenge, Chaplain Rice is intimately familiar with the mission and function of residential youth ministry. Billy Rice was awarded a certificate of achievement for Juvenile Hall ministry to teens in the greater Los Angeles area. Chaplain Rice earned certification in September, 2007 in Biblical Counseling at Teen Challenge Ministry Institute in Los Angeles, a two-year college program under Global University. He is also a certified teacher of the national Teen Challenge Character Education Studies. Rice served as an Outreach Ministry Team leader during his enrollment at TCMI.
Chaplain Rice and his wife Marsha joined the staff of Gateway Military Academy in 2007. He now serves as the Program Manager, giving oversight to all of the student ministry functions as well as the safety and general welfare of the students and staff in residence. You will find Chaplain Rice creatively and passionately leading the Wednesday night chapel services for students and staff members. Twice annually, he and his wife Marsha lead Stay Sharp Teams of selected students on annual school “drug awareness” tours. In October of 2011, their Stay Sharp Team impacted over 3,000 students in the Chicago area public schools.
Chaplain Rice oversees the Gateway Military School’s internship program, directing graduates who choose to give six months of service to Gateway Military School in the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). This curriculum prepares our graduates for “servant-leadership” in their future employment and as husbands and fathers.
CHARLES STEWARD, IT INSTRUCTOR, FINANCE MANAGER
Mr. Charles Steward has served Gateway Military Academy since June 2009 an instructor to students who desire to learn computer hardware technology. Charles is currently pursuing his MBA in Information Technology from Western Governor’s University, Salt Lake City Utah. He not only services our technology, but manages the operations budget of the facility as well.
Mr. Steward is a 2007 graduate of Southeastern University, Lakeland, Florida, earning a BA in History. Also while at Southeastern, he was mentored in Church/Ministry Administration with Collegiate Masters Corps. He remarks, “During my teen years, I made poor choices which led to rebellion, but through Christ’s love and a wonderful mentor, I gave my life to Jesus Christ and was forever changed. It was soon after that I felt God calling me to work with young people, to minister and help mentor them from making the mistakes I made.”
SUSAN MCCALL, ACADEMY ADMINISTRATOR
Susan McCall, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, serves as the Administrator for the academic arm of Gateway Military Academy.
Ms. McCall attended Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri for two years, when she married and started a family. Susan taught preschool for 14 years while she raised her three children. In February 1999, Susan began a seven year stint in social work as a family support worker with Healthy Families Florida. Susan taught parenting and child development to mothers through home visitation.
Ms. McCall completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Educational Studies at Southeastern University, Lakeland, Florida. She became part of the teaching staff at Gateway Military Academy in 2007. In August 2010, Susan accepted the position of administrator at Gateway Military Academy. She is currently in the process of earning her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership through Southeastern University.
Susan McCall is known by our parents as a “hospitality specialist” as she assists in our weekend family meals preparation. Her fresh baked apple pies make her a multitude of friends!
VICKY SYFRETT – CHARACTER EDUCATION TEACHER
Vicky Syfrett, a native of Mississippi, studied photojournalism and police administration at Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College. For the past 26 years Mrs. Syfrett has worked with troubled youth in various educational settings.
Since joining the staff of Gateway Military Academy in June 1998, she has served in school administration and for the past 10 years, as the Character Education Coordinator. Her extensive library provides a wealth of reading, viewing and listening, whether it be issues of personal struggle or biographies of remarkable men and women.
Previous to her present position with Gateway Military Academy, Vicky served as the founder, administrator and a teacher in Washington County Christian School in Chipley, Florida.
Mrs. Syfrett holds a diploma from Stratford Career Institute in sex and drug counseling, and is presently enrolled in the “Social Psychology” course through SCI. She has also acquired certification as a teacher of the nationally used Personal and Group Studies Curriculum of Teen Challenge International, Inc.
She is presently in the process of acquiring certification in “Addiction and Recovery”, “Breaking Free”, and “Caring for Teens God’s Way” through Light University, an online university affiliated with American Association of Christian Counselors.
Vicky’s favorite pastimes include spending time with family, photography, listening and scrapbooking.
Katie Rice- Human Resources/Admissions
Katie Rice, a native of Washington State, is a 2003 graduate of Western Baptist College in Salem, Oregon. Having earned a BA in English and Communications, with a minor in ministry, Katie served a one-year internship at the Los Angeles County Teen Challenge, a Christian residential ministry to men and women with life-controlling issues.
Ms. Rice’s passion for Teen Challenge evolved into seven years of ministry and mentoring at their corporate office. Katie earned her “Blueprint for Workplace Success” instructor certification and the “California Conference for Equality and Justice” certified race facilitator certification. While serving as office manager for LA Teen Challenge, she simultaneously reached out to juveniles at a local recreational facility operated by Los Angeles Teen Challenge.
Katie is married to Mike Rice, one of our Drill Academy staff members. Together, they joined the team at Gateway Military Academy in 2010.
Katie serves in human resources and walks parents through the admissions process with care and compassion.
Chuck Odum- Drill Academy Commander
Chuck Odom virtually grew up in the military, having a father stationed in Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia since Chuck was three years of age.
At the age of 22, Chuck recognized the Lord’s call to full-time ministry. But it wasn’t until eight years later, as he attended his grandfather’s funeral, that reality hit him how a life lived “on purpose for the Lord” could impact many. “I realized I wanted my life to be one that made a difference to others”, comments First Sgt. Chuck Odum.
In 2005, I joined the staff of Rivertown Church in Columbus, Georgia as an ordained pastor. In 2008, Chuck’s wife Kristi and two children (ages 17 and 10) moved to Chipley, Florida where he worked in a DJJ facility for boys ages 16-18.
In July 2010 Chuck joined the ministry of Gateway Military Academy. He presently serves as Commander of the Drill Academy, overseeing the Drill Instructors who daily lead and care for our residential students.
RAUL CORNEJO – FOOD SERVICES MANAGER
In July 2011, Raul Cornejo and his wife Claudia entered a new door of ministry at Gateway Military Academy. Raul serves as a Biblical counselor to a number of assigned students. He is also the Food Services Manager for our facility, serving an average of 200 nutritious meals daily. At the heart of Raul’s personal motivation is the desire to provide a strong community bond and loving support for the cadets at Gateway Military Academy.
Raul Cornejo is a native of Baldwin Park, California. Although his single mother took him to church faithfully, as a teenager Raul began to drink alcohol and loved to party with friends. But at the age of 19, a fun lifestyle had progressed to a meth addiction which would drive his life for the next 10 years. This addiction tore Raul’s life to pieces and brought him to the brink of homelessness. He recalls the moment when he fell to his knees and cried out to God. God’s answer was clear- “Rise up, take hold, and do not give up!”
On October 19, 2004, Raul Cornejo entered the doors of Riverside, California Teen Challenge. His life is truly an example of Mark 10:27 which says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
Mr. Cornejo went on to attend the Teen Challenge Ministry Institute in South Gate, California, a two-year Bible college that serves to equip students to address the needs of those with life-controlling issues. SGT Cornejo served at Los Angeles Teen Challenge as a Bible teacher and counselor, as well as a food manager over two Teen Challenge centers simultaneously.
Currently he is working on completing the Emerging Leaders Program which prepares staff members for excellency in service to those in residential care programs.
LLOYD LAYCOX, DRILL INSTRUCTOR
Lloyd Laycox, a native of southern Georgia, has been a part of Gateway Military Academy since 2004. As a counselor to several of our students, Lloyd is familiar with the heartbreak and bitterness that can accompany parents’ divorce. Sgt. Laycox shares,
“Even though my mom was a Christian and I knew of God, I began to steal and dabble in drugs for a short period of time. In 2003 I gave my life fully to God and He blessed me with my wife. Eight years later, I am a father of two beautiful little girls, and have been able to rebuild the relationship with my own dad. The anger and bitterness are gone. God had a better plan for my life!”
Having a heart for missions, Lloyd Laycox has previously traveled from Florida to California with “He Is Ministries” for 15 months as their sound technician.
Sgt. Laycox is presently enrolled in basic law enforcement classes and will soon be certified as a “first responder”.
MARSHA RICE, OUTREACH COORDINATOR/RECEPTIONIST
Marsha Rice is “first responder” as she occupies the administrative office of Gateway Military Academy and answers parent inquiries. Marsha also serves as the Student Outreach and Fundraising Coordinator, planning and often attending U.S. and foreign mission events. Along with her husband, Chaplain Billy Rice, she assists with the Stay Sharp school programs, a drug awareness presentation for middle and high schools. Our team of students shared this exciting and poignant dramatized message with over 3,500 students in the Chicago schools during October 2012 Drug Awareness Week.
As a Los Angeles Teen Challenge graduate, Marsha feels compelled to give her life in service to teens struggling in much the same way as she had. Marsha served two years at the Los Angeles Teen Challenge women’s home as a counselor. As a newly married couple in 2007, Marsha and her husband Billy joined the staff of Gateway Military Academy.
Marsha is currently active in the Emerging Leaders Program, designed to prepare staff to take greater leadership roles in ministry to youth.
JIM GHASTIN, FACILITIES MANAGER – BIBLICAL COUNSELOR
Jim Ghastin, formerly of Michigan, serves Gateway Military Academy as a facilities manager and team leader for outreach to teenagers in the Panama City area. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Management and Organizational Development from Spring Arbor University.
Jim remarks about his life, “In 1982, at the age of 28, I accepted the Lord as my savior and served Him actively in my local church and various prison ministries. I developed a substance abuse counseling program that was implemented at the facility in which I worked as a Resident Unit Manager, and also served as a substance abuse counselor.”
Jim took on the role as “acting chaplain” of the resident unit during absence of the chaplain and at times when the position was vacant.
Following his retirement from the Michigan Department of Corrections with 29 years of service, Jim and his wife of 36 years, Cindy, sold their home and joined the RV MAPS (Mission America Placement Service) program, a ministry under the Assemblies of God. Their first project led them to Gateway Military Academy at West Florida Teen Challenge, where they both now serve in full-time capacity.
GARRETT PITTMAN, DRILL INSTRUCTOR – BIBLICAL COUNSELOR
Garrett Pittman was formerly a native of Eagle Lake, Florida, a small town southwest of Orlando.
He shares about himself, “Although wonderful Christian parents raised me, I chose the wrong path for several years. Someone presented me with a copy of the book The Cross and the Switchblade, the story of Teen Challenge. I am so grateful to the ministry of Teen Challenge, where I discovered personally that the discipline of spiritual fitness as well as physical fitness was needed to guide me in the path God had planned for my life.”
Since April, 2011, Sgt. Pittman has enhanced his position as Drill Instructor at Gateway Military Academy with his past experience in high school track and field as well as baseball.
Garrett not only serves as a Drill Instructor, managing the daily routine of our cadets, but he also serves as a biblical counselor to several students.