As the new year rapidly unfolds it is important we remember to pause now and then, perhaps take a dip in the ocean or meander a bit on a nearby mountain trail, perhaps with child or grandchild in hand (and Max on a leash).
Regardless of your economic status or whatever cards you may have been dealt with in this life, if you are fortunate enough to live in these islands, chances are you are better off than 99 percent of those who live elsewhere on the planet. We are the true 1 percent, and we need to always remember that, especially when times are hard and challenges arise. Yes, lucky we live Hawaii.
In policy and politics the tendency is often to get caught up “in the big stuff,” and perhaps rightly so. The focus and discussions often center around traffic, affordable housing, crime, taxes, budgets, and false alarm ballistic missile attacks (sorry, I could not resist).
But at the end of the day it is the small things that make us happy, and it is the small things that smart policy makers will also include in their “things-to-accomplish list.” People in our community want and appreciate clean parks and restroom facilities, dog parks, skateboard rinks and community centers. When residents take their children to a park or sporting event, they want and expect the grass to be mowed and that the toilets have paper, and are clean and tidy.
While it may sound like a cliche to some, it truly is the small things that make a difference.
What is the cost, and what would be the benefit, if our county government also made it a top priority to support our existing youth programs, to a degree that they were the very best in the state?
Think about the impacts to our local families and youth if we as a community and as a government began increasing our support of our parks and our young people?
Many individual dedicated volunteers already do so much with so little. What if the county stepped up and offered additional support?
We currently have park facilities in every community, and we have a wide range of youth programs. Imagine if the County of Kauai began actively partnering more with those youth programs, engaging the youth in civic partnerships while supporting their programs with modest “matching grants.”
What would be the impact on drug use and abuse among our youth if their choices of after-school and weekend activities included a strong and wide array of programs including theater, art, hula, skateboarding, mountain biking, music, chess, computer animation, sports, auto mechanics, boating, fishing, and agriculture, not to mention scouting activities?
Many of these opportunities already exist and are managed by high-quality volunteer organizations tucked away in our towns and communities on every shore. The individuals and groups who run these programs are the true heroes, and deserve both our thanks and our active help and support.
For starters, we need to make it a point to stop at their car wash and give to that ever-present sports team raising money to travel to some far-off tournament. And yes, we need to purchase the laulau and hulihuli chicken as well, every chance we get, as we know they need uniforms for the team, or costumes for the play, or new computers or for whatever expense that goes with running a volunteer youth organization.
Many of us already do these things, but perhaps the county needs to do the same but on a larger scale. Our government funds tourism programs and other so-called non-essential services, so why not up the ante a little bit for youth programs?
Research shows that the most important factor in determining whether or not a young person goes astray in life is the presence (or not) of a positive adult role model, and as we all know the inherent risk of “idle hands” and boredom, especially when combined with the lack of a positive adult role model.
Kauai at one time had a vibrant “Hoolokahi Program” that supported community groups who partnered with the county on park improvements (cleaning/painting restrooms, picking up litter, park repairs, etc.). The model is simple and basic: The community group provided the labor and managed the project and the county provided materials (paint, buckets, trucks, etc.). Perhaps it is time to reinvigorate this program and expand it to support youth activities of all types, both sports activities and all others.
Perhaps it is time for the county to do more and actually invest public funds in support of the various youth programs already operating but constantly in need of help and support. The county could provide “matching funds” in the form of small grants to these worthy organizations and partner with them perhaps in civic projects that involve their youth membership. It would be important that the grant-making process be transparent, that no single organization or activity dominate, and that the grants be for special needs only and not for general operations. From arts to sports, all should benefit equally.
Drug-treatment facilities are much needed, but are extremely expensive to manage and implement. Education and enforcement are also important parts of the formula in reducing our community’s drug-abuse problems. A modest annual investment into a grant-making pool of funds to be matched by nonprofit organizations with community-raised funds or “sweat equity volunteer labor” is an essential element now missing, and could provide significant positive returns in human capital.
Supporting our existing youth programs, and expanding them to accommodate the needs and interests of all of our youth, must be a county and a community priority. Through these programs we can help build a stronger community foundation and provide that all-important positive adult role model missing from far too many homes.
Here is where our investment must start. Here is where we will get the biggest bang for our buck. And, without question, here is where we will impact the future of our community the most.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.