National Guard Youth Challenge Program

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo
  • Air Force Print News
The Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy is 22-week program designed to help troubled or at-risk teens. It gives the 16 to 18 year olds a second chance to focus, get a high school diploma, and the skills they will need to lead a productive life.

Although the Academy uses a military model for organization, discipline and values it is not a boot camp. The Academy is a volunteer program that is drug free, stresses academic preparation, leadership development, mentoring, physical fitness and post-graduate placement in jobs. Once in the program the teens are called cadets.

“A lot of kids when I go to the high school and do recruiting, they’ll say ‘Oh, that’s the place for bad kids,’ or ‘I heard that only naughty kids belong there,’ and no, it’s not,” said Staff Sgt. Alika Kaahanui a Youth Challenge Academy cadre.

“A lot of kids lose focus based on their lifestyle and their culture and ethnicity. It’s not always because they’re bad kids,” he said.

The cadets have experienced trouble in their lives that have precluded them from graduating on time or from conventional schools usually the result of drug abuse or negligent parenting. The goal of the Youth Challenge Program is to provide a way for them to turn their life around.

“This program really gave me a new life. It gave me a second chance, just like what this program is all about: giving delinquent teens a second chance. That’s what it did for me, and I would recommend this to anybody: come to this program,” said Matthew Rash a Youth Challenge Academy cadet.

Each cadet has a volunteer mentor that they can turn to for help and advice following graduation. Old habits dies hard and a good mentor is often the key to success when the cadet returns to his or her old environment.

“A lot of these kids come from families that probably aren’t the most – well disciplined and well structured – broken homes,” said Master Sgt. Alan Burgeson a resource advisor for the Counter Drug Support Progam, Headquaters Hawaii Air National Guard.

“Being a mentor, sometimes you have to fill one of those shoes that the individual is missing, and that’s where I came into play. I just stepped up to the plate and said, “look, this is what we’re gonna do, and we’re gonna do it,” he said.

The National Guard has deep roots in the community and has traditionally been involved in youth programs designed to help you people become positive and productive in their community.

“Every staff member here feels like a parent. We feel like- it’s very difficult to allow us to be effective in our job and at the same time give them the feeling of us being their [parent]. It becomes challenging for every staff member here and there’s times when we need to take off our staff member’s hat, pull them aside and let them see that side of us,” said Sgt. First Class Francis Tau’a the Youth Challenge Academy Commandant.

“I make better decisions and more careful decisions about where I want to go and what I want to do. I’ll think about it. But before it was just ‘Oh, I want to do this, just because it sounds fun,’ but, um, it definitely makes me want to do something with my life,” said Kayln Silvia a Youth Challenge Academy cadet.