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Culinary class from Youth Challenge Academy cohort, No. 53

Valuable training that can lead to industry certification has been imparted to some Oʻahu teenagers for more than two years through a collaboration between Leeward Community College’s Office of Continuing Education & Workforce Development (OCEWD) and the Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy.

The Youth Challenge Academy serves “at-promise” youth, ages 16–18, who are at greatest risk for substance abuse, teen pregnancy, delinquency and criminal activity. Besides mentoring and teaching values, life skills and self-discipline, a large part of its program focuses on education.

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Male cadet preparing Ahi poke salad

With every cohort, OCEWD trains a group of cadets in basic culinary and restaurant service skills. As part of their “graduation,” they prepare and serve a four-course lunch to their peers to celebrate the holidays. They usually donate meals to a nearby shelter in Kalaeloa. This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the cadets held a much smaller lunch and donated a portion of the meals to the Hawaii National Guard.

This partnership provides much needed training for cadets who are not following the route of a traditional student. Through these training programs, cadets develop essential skills that can be used to pursue entry-level employment or resume their education. They are also provided with the opportunity to network with local businesses and industry experts.

OCEWD Coordinator Will Castillo, whose working relationship with Youth Challenge Academy spans over a decade, said, “Our hope is that these cadets are inspired to not just start a job, but pursue their passion and a career.”

Youth Challenge Director Sina Atanoa added, “In the first two years that we have partnered with Leeward CC, our rate of cadets pursuing employment or education has increased by 70 percent.”

For more information about Leeward CC’s OCEWD and their training programs, visit their website or email ocewd@hawaii.edu.

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Cadets grilled NY steaks as the main course