Isle Guard helps
teens get education
back on track
The Youth Challenge participants
preserve a historic habitat
as they earn a diploma
Seventeen-year-old James Cody Kaumeheiwa smoked marijuana daily and used cocaine and alcohol. He dropped out of Kaiser High School after receiving Ds and Fs on his report card.
Wanting to change, Kaumeheiwa found the Hawaii National Guard's Youth Challenge Academy and entered the program. The academy provides "at risk" youths a second chance to obtain their high school diploma.
After nine weeks, Kaumeheiwa has broken free from drugs, improved in his classes and plans on joining the Army after he graduates from the academy in December.
"I feel more energetic. I could take on the world," said Kaumeheiwa.
More than 80 volunteers from the Hawaii National Guard's Youth Challenge Academy, equipped with shovels, rakes and other gardening tools, helped maintenance efforts at the Kaneloa Natural Habitat and Wetland Restoration Project in Kapiolani Park yesterday.
"It's a window to the past ... It's a remnant of what Waikiki used to be," said Michelle Spalding Matson, project founder and coordinator. "We want to maintain it for future generations so they have an understanding of native Hawaiian plants, ecology and the ecosystem."
Five years ago, the restoration project was funded in a congressional grant through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health.
"We want to preserve and expand it because it's a historic feature," said Matson.
The nearly two-acre site is behind the Royal Hawaiian Band headquarters near the Waikiki Shell. Native plants at the site include Hawaiian sedge, akulikuli and aeae.
Since April, academy volunteers have visited the site once a month to help maintain the natural habitat. Sgt. Mario Alfaro said volunteer work for the teens instills pride in themselves and helps them become a part of the community. Volunteers from other schools and organizations also help keep up the natural habitat.
Youth between age 16 and 18 pulled weeds yesterday, loosened soil and cleared away dry leaves at the site.
Sixteen-year-old Brian Martin helped loosen the soil at the site. Martin's father learned about the academy and recommended that he attend after he got into fights at Kapolei High School and was suffering academically.
Through the Hawaii Competency-based High School Diploma program at the academy, Martin will be able to obtain his diploma in December. Like Kaumeheiwa, he plans to join the Army.
Before he entered the academy, Martin said he could not fathom participating in community work. Now, he said, "It feels good to help out."