Challenge offers students a second chance

Thursday, May 31st, 2012
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By Lisa Marie Dahm
Special to West Hawaii Today

Not every student sails through school on the right path with straight A’s and a history of inspiring teachers to help them. Some struggle and may even give up, dropping out with no idea where life will take them once they turn 18 years old.

That is where Hawaii Youth Challenge, National Guard Academy can step in and make all the difference in a person’s future.

According to information provided by Rita Miller, RPM assistant, the purpose of the program is to “provide opportunities for at-risk, non-traditional students to learn life skills to become productive, responsible and successful citizens while working toward their high school diploma.”

Miller will be at Tutu’s House in Waimea to give an informational meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on June 7 to interested candidates, family members, and anyone who would like to support the group.

About a year ago, the Hawaii Youth Challenge National Guard opened a center in Hilo called the Kulani Campus. Miller’s information said the program starts with a two-week, pre-challenge that identifies students who have the “discipline to complete the program.”

After completing the pre-challenge, the candidate is considered a cadet and enters the next 20-week phase, where they live at the Kulani Campus in a structured environment. Cadets are not just left on their own once they finish the program. They are matched with a trained mentor in a 52-week, post residential phase. They meet with their mentors regularly to help the cadets’ transition into work or college.

Regina Dunfee’s daughter, Andrina Oliver, went to her mother and asked to join the program. Then 16 years old, she had been misdiagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and though she was a caring, loving person, she struggled in school.

Dunfee said though her daughter has only been in the program since January, her reading and writing levels have already increased dramatically.

“What I love about the program is that they are quasi military run, but they are all loving auntys and uncles up there,” she said. “Her educational level went from a third grade level to passing GED level classes.”

She said the first time she saw her daughter again was in April and she was amazed at the results in the short time.

“The overall thought is they learn to respect themselves – to care for themselves in every area of their life,” Dunfee said. “Once somebody really respects and cares for them, everything else pulls into place.”

Participants must be between 16 and 18 years old when they start the program and must have either left high school or not earned a diploma or certificate. The State of Hawaii and the federal government fund the program, so parents are not required to pay tuition. There is no military requirement.

Lorriane Urbic, program leader at Tutu’s House, said the group partners with the youth academy because it offers the “curriculum, skills and tools for getting things done.”

“The National Guard Youth Challenge Academy Program offers an opportunity to turn things around for a young adult who just needs a new perspective and environment,” Urbic said.

Urbic said attending the informational program at Tutu’s House might just be “the right place at the right time” for a discouraged young adult.

“Sometimes a leg-up is all that is needed for a discouraged teen to make healthier choices, which could lead to a more positive future than they ever imagined from where they are at this moment in their lives,” Urbic said.

For more information on registering for Youth Challenge Academy, call Rita Miller at 933-1922 or go to or call Tutu’s House at 885-4998.