Tuesday | June 02, 2015
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Rising to the ChalleNGe: Youth academy readying new facility

The Hawaii Youth ChalleNGe Academy, a program of the National Guard with a focus on at-risk teenagers, will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new location Thursday.

The state and federally funded program takes a “quasi-military” approach to help its students plan and prepare for the future.

Beginning with the upcoming class of students, the program will be moved from its old site on the grounds of the Kulani Correctional Facility to the new campus at the Keaukaha Military Reservation. The program was relocated as part of the state’s plan to reopen the minimum security prison — which was closed because of budget concerns in 2009 — next month.

The ceremony is set for 10 a.m. Thursday with Maj. Gen. Darryll D.M. Wong, the state’s adjutant general, to speak. A blessing of the new facility and a ribbon-cutting ceremony also will take place.

Among the invited guests who will attend the ceremony and tour the buildings are education officials and local community leaders who partnered with the program to provide activities and opportunities for its graduates.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Kim, the state’s deputy adjutant general, and J.D. Williams, the state director of Youth ChalleNGe, also will attend.

The move out of Kulani and closer to town marks a step forward for the Hawaii Youth ChalleNGe Academy and it will be well-received, said Gary Thomas, the program’s deputy director.

“It’ll be a big plus. I’ve talked to a number of parents who were waiting for us to move down,” Thomas said. “There’s also closer access — not only to medical services — but we also do a lot of partnering with the community. We can do some things here that we couldn’t do before because of the distance.”

A new building, which will house the program’s cadets, was built at the new location with $5.9 million released by Gov. Neil Abercrombie. An additional $2 million was used to renovate an existing building that will serve as classrooms and administrative offices when the next class of students enters the program July 29.

Having the new campus nearly doubles the program’s capacity to 100 cadets with expansion plans for another building to house an additional 50 students set aside for future growth.

“We’re currently experiencing about 20 to 25 percent growth with each class, which is quite a bit of growth,” Thomas said. “We could even have more because we’re moving. … You never know, we might get close to 100.”

The Youth ChalleNGe Academy’s latest cycle graduated a class last Thursday with 100 percent of cadets earning their high school diplomas. A typical class has a graduation rate of about 80 percent.

Thomas said the success of the last class can be attributed to the exceptional effort put in by the teachers, the program’s partners in the Department of Education and the cadets themselves.

Most graduates of the program either go on to join the workforce, pursue higher education or enter the military.

“We work very hard to get the kids to buy into their future, to get them to believe that they can succeed” Thomas said. “Once we see that in their eyes, they really take off.”

 

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