KALAELOA, Hawaii -- The mission of the Hawaii National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy is simple, yet deeply profound:

"To provide opportunities for at-risk students, ages 16-18, to learn life skills and to become productive, responsible and successful citizens."

Hawaii's two Youth ChalleNGe Academies (YCAs), based here and in Hilo on the Big Island, are part of the larger National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program that leads, trains and mentors high school dropouts from all 50 states so that they may become productive citizens in America's future.

"Our duty and responsibility is leadership -- we have to be that positive leadership," said YCA director Juan Williams, who is a 30-year veteran with the U.S. Marines Corps.

"We've found that these kids, all they're looking for is someone to bond with," Williams explained. "A lot of times, the reason why they get in trouble is due to peer pressure. But once you get them away from that environment and put them in a structured environment, such as this, you start seeing the better in them."

Since its inception, here, in 1994, Hawaii's two YCAs have witnessed nearly 4,000 cadets receive their high school or General Education Development (GED) diplomas.

What's more, most graduates go on to find employment, continue their education or join the military.

"We have to make sure the cadet is placed and has an action plan before he leaves the program," Williams stated. "It makes you so proud to see the outcome (of this program), and on graduation day, when that cadet comes to you and says, 'Thank you for not giving up on me,' and shakes your hand, that's the best feeling you could ever have in this world."

Youth ChalleNGe Programs are authorized and funded through the Department of Defense, and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) is responsible for management and oversight of 35 ChalleNGe academies throughout the nation, including those in Hawaii.

"Hawaii is one of the rare programs that has survived 20 years," Williams noted, adding that its high retention rate (87-90 percent) is why NGB quickly green-lighted Hawaii's request for a second program in Hilo in 2010.

"They approved that right away, because they saw the great things that this state was doing for the cadets," he said.

"In the eight years that I've been here, every year, there's not an achievement that the cadets or the program hasn't met," Williams continued. "We want them to be responsible citizens, and we teach them the importance of the being that in a way they understand; that's what the program is all about."

-- Eight Core Components

The Hawaii National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy uses what is known as the "Eight Core Component" framework to train its cadets to be active, contributing members of society.

"These Eight Core Components are what is needed to help them be successful in life," said retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Juan Williams, Hawaii YCA director.

According to Williams, this intervention model focuses on the holistic development of the cadet and is the foundation of the experiential-learning training taught at the academy.

"Here, the cadets earn a high school diploma in 5-and-a-half months," Williams said. "What is ironic is, these are the same kids who were failing at school or didn't want to go to school. The reason why they get their diploma, here, in 5-and-a-half months, is that it's a regimented program. That's why we're so successful -- because of the structure."

The Eight Core Components are as follows:

•Academic Excellence -- Cadets are trained to be lifelong learners. Classes underscore the five major disciplines of reading, writing, mathematics, sciences and social sciences.

•Life-Coping Skills -- Cadets learn to prepare and manage a personal budget, develop coping strategies and conflict resolution, and set and achieve goals.

•Job Skills -- Cadets develop basic skills necessary to complete a written resumé, fill out employment applications and complete a mock interview; they also learn to conduct job searches and pursue future educational opportunities.

•Health and Hygiene -- Cadets learn good health and hygiene habits for lifelong mental, physical and emotional well-being. Topics covered include smoking cessation, nutrition and sexual responsibility.

•Responsible Citizenship -- Cadets develop a better understanding of cultural awareness,
violence prevention, voting and the honor code.

•Service to Community -- Cadets gain an understanding of the benefits of volunteering at community projects and agencies such as the American Red Cross, Adopt-a-Highway and others, including Army change of command ceremonies, Read Aloud nights at local elementary schools, and Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades.

•Leadership/Fellowship -- Cadets learn to be a good leader and a good follower. Color guard, drill and ceremony are part of this curriculum.

•Physical Fitness -- Cadets participate in an intense training program built upon the President Challenge to encourage a lifelong commitment to physical, mental and emotional well-being. Activities include, but are not limited to, military-style PT, running and organized sports.

-- Locations

The Hawaii National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy has two 100-bed facilities at the following locations:

•Oahu Campus, Kalaeloa, (808) 685-7139; and
•Hawaii Campus, Hilo, (808) 933-1954.