U.S. Army Garrison Pōhakuloa Training Area (PTA) and the Hawai’i National Guard Youth Challenge Academy (YCA) have a long-standing partnership to provide cadets with meaningful experiences such as the native tree planting initiative at PTA on February 23, 2023.
Ten female cadets from the academy were provided information on PTA’s native plants planting initiative and shown how to properly plant trees by natural resources staff.
“We have a duty to preserve our surroundings, and the cadets definitely understood that as they planted each tree,” said PTA Command Sgt. Maj. Jessica Cho. She spoke to cadets about the positive impact each person can make by taking one step at a time. Like the slow growing ohia tree, she said that good things come to those that persevere and never quit. “I know that the academy provides a great environment for healing, discipline and education, and I’m happy to be able to work with them,” said Cho, who is also signing up to be a mentor.
The tree planting event supports the Responsible Citizenship component of the YCA’s eight core components, and a team work opportunity. Cadet Shaleah Tacang said she had a fun experience planting trees with her cohorts.
She has been with YCA for five weeks and hopes “to be a stronger individual and stand on my own two feet.” Tacang said she likes everything about the program because it is teaching her discipline and team work. “Most of us cope in negative ways and we’re learning to cope in positive ways, which is a really good skill that everyone should have, said Tacang.
Cadet Chanel Almonte has also been with YCA for five weeks, and is the vice president for Class of 2025. “It’s been hard but it’s helping me become stronger and more motivated,” said Almonte. “It is teaching me work ethics and team ethics and discipline.”
The YCA website states that it “is a community-based program that leads, trains and mentors 16-18-year-old high school dropouts so that they may become productive citizens in America’s future.”
“We have students from many different backgrounds…and we provide them with life skills, jobs skills, and work with them to develop goals for after graduation,” said Chastise Bacon, YCA Hilo program coordinator. She adds that these cadets are ‘at promise’ rather than ‘at risk’ to avoid a negative connotation. “At promise gives them hope,” said Bacon.
Cadets live and train at the Hilo YCA campus for a 22-week Residential Phase, and is paired with a mentor for a year to provide guidance as needed.
PTA Operations Specialist Dan Cassel has been a registered YCA mentor since 2020. “I once was a very troubled youth so I can relate to the cadets,” said Cassel. “I had a mentor when I was young so thought it would be a great opportunity to do the same.” He believes that people should consider being a mentor “to help mold these young cadets and give them guidance, hope and determination to stay on track and not give up.”
PTA Plans and Operations Specialist Staff Sgt. Kevin Antolin is a former YCA cadre, and a registered mentor. “I enjoy giving back to the organization because I believe in the program and what they do for the cadets,” said Antolin. “I have seen firsthand how YCA provides cadets the skills and hope to make important decisions to better their lives such as going to college, finding careers and joining the military." He adds that some YCA graduates joined the Hawaii Army National Guard and have been part of his unit.
PTA is grateful that the YCA will also participate in PTA’s April 20 Open House – Experience PTA Day which is open to the public.