By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii’s at-risk teens should have a variety of new opportunities available to them by this time next year, says Hawaii Youth ChalleNGe Academy Deputy Director Gary Thomas.
That’s because work at the state- and federally-funded program’s new campus within the Keaukaha Military Reservation National Guard Facility is now under way and is expected to be complete by July 2014, he said, making it possible for the academy to relocate from its current home on the grounds of the Kulani Correctional Facility. The state plans to reopen that minimum-security facility after shutting it down in 2009.
“The main impact will be that we will have our permanent home,” Thomas said of the anticipated move. “And secondly, we’ll be back in Hilo, giving us much better access to the community.”
From taking part in vocational training opportunities at area businesses, to enrolling in academic programs offered by Hawaii Community College, to performing community service projects in town, the cadets at the Youth ChalleNGe Academy will have a much easier time accessing all that Hilo has to offer, he said.
The program, which caters primarily to at-risk students who have dropped out of school, offers a strict,”quasi-military” program, he said, which provides its cadets with supervision and direction as they try to go beyond obtaining their diploma.
“We take elements the military does very well. We develop a sense of team and sense of something bigger than yourself. We offer structure and discipline and a 24-7 environment,” Thomas said. “Kids have chosen to come. It’s voluntary. And it’s challenging, that’s why its called the Youth Challenge.”
However, currently operating out of the Kulani Correction Facility, located 20 miles southwest of Hilo, cadets are more limited in the kinds of options they have, Thomas said.
“I’m a big believer in partnerships, and we can do a lot more working together with the community,” he said.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie released $5.9 million last month to begin construction of a new dormitory facility in Keaukaha to house 100 program cadets. Currently, each class, or “cycle,” lasts 22 weeks and hosts between 40 and 60 cadets, but organizers expect the program to continue growing, as the one on Oahu has done over the past several years.
In fact, Thomas said, the plans for the new building include expansion plans for the future to add room for another 50 beds.
“We anticipate, being a newer program, continuing to grow,” he said, “particularly as the community gets greater awareness of what we’re able to offer.
The program will celebrate groundbreaking for the new dorm building on Friday, Oct. 11. Meanwhile, the $5.9 million released by the state will also fund renovation of Building 621 on the KMR grounds for the addition of restrooms and other facility and infrastructure improvements needed to provide for the academy.
For more information on the Youth ChalleNGe Academy, visit http://www.ngycp.org/site/state/hi/.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.