American Samoa youth allowed to remain in Hawaii Youth Challenge program after outcry

(File)(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 12:20 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2023 at 3:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - American Samoan youth who were ineligible for the National Guard’s Youth Challenge Academy were granted an exemption on Wednesday and are now allowed to remain in the program.

The state’s Department of Defense said officials reversed an earlier decision to deny the exemption for a group of 24 students, who were five weeks into the program.

According to DOD policy, U.S. nationals are not allowed in the National Guard program.

“Our request to have the exemption to allow American American Samoa youth who are U.S. Nationals will now be accepted into the Hawaii Youth Challenge program,” said state DoD Director of Public Affairs Jeff Hickman.

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“So that’s it’s big news, great news. We’ll get to keep the 13 American Samoa youth that are still here. And we were working on getting the 11 that we just shipped out yesterday, back into the program,”

Prior to receiving the exemption, parents and youth told HNN they were heartbroken that they would not be allowed to complete the program. State officials and American Samoa Governor Lemanu Mauga appealed to DC officials to reconsider.

“They love the program,” Hickman said.

“It’s a tight group, you know, five and a half months of together, waking up cleaning, working, running, working out going to class. Those guys really bond and so you could see the hurts, and you could hear it in their voice.”

Hickman said they are working on a process to bring back the 11 students who were sent back to American Samoa.

“This situation has been difficult for the families, for the youth and for our Youth Challenge Academy staff. Right now we’re investigating on exactly what happened and why and what decisions were made at what time and promises made, that would eventually affect, you know, 24 lives and families,” he said.