PUHI — The Kaua‘i Community College cafeteria was filled with business, nonprofit and government leaders Thursday for Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance’s annual meeting, but all attention was focused on nine high school students and their musings about the island’s future.
The teens, ranging from high school sophomores to seniors, took turns answering forward-looking questions from KPAA Executive Director Diane Zachary.
The answers at times showed their age, but more often revealed insightful takes on the issues that will impact them down the road.
Perhaps the most telling statement shared up and down the panel was a desire to return to Kaua‘i after college, and a fear that it wouldn’t be feasible.
Asked about her future plans, Kapa‘a High School junior Angela Mones, whose goal is to teach English, said, “Hopefully I will still be here on Kauai — if I can afford it.”
Other concerns repeated across the panel were overdevelopment and preservation of natural resources.
Nalu Thain, a home-schooled senior who wants to attend business school, said sustainability and maintaining Kaua‘i’s natural beauty will have to strike a balance; that may mean building a hydro-dam in the Wailua River or putting windmills on top of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale to ensure self-sufficiency, he said.
Asked what self-sufficiency means to her, Island School senior and aspiring environmental engineer Kim Mayfield said the basic needs — food, water, shelter — should be met on-island without importation.
She said she tried to abide by an all-Kaua‘i diet, but only lasted three days, as anything cooked was excluded because it required imported gas or oil.
“We all consider this a problem, and we’re all going off to college to figure out how to solve it and then come back,” said Mayfield, adding that the community will have to accept that long-term energy solutions may require hefty up-front costs.
On what role the community can play in supporting Kauai youth, Thain said the County Council should allow more housing development to increase the supply, with the intended consequence of lowering housing prices.
Natasha Abadilla, a Waimea High School sophomore who plans to become an oncologist, suggested that leaders create a mentorship program to help teens accomplish their goals.
“People know what they want to do, but they don’t know how to go about it,” she said.
All said that schools were the best place to circulate information about programs, scholarships and opportunities. Mayfield suggested that leaders support the addition classes on affordable housing or sustainability to school curriculum.
The spotlight may have been on the students Thursday, but Zachary did take time to review concerns identified by KPAA members.
Organizational challenges that proved common among nonprofits were insufficient resources, both financial and manpower, and finding unity in the community and with other organizations.
On Kaua‘i issues, members rattled off a list of obstacles, including a shortage of affordable housing, sustainability concerns, growth control, a need for more living wages, an improved transportation system, drug and substance abuse as well as concerns for families and the disadvantages.
“We have plenty of issues on the table for us to think about,” Zachary said.
The meeting wasn’t all talk, however. Zachary noted KPAA’s 2007 accomplishments, which included substance abuse mitigation, support of public education, a nonprofit capacity building workshop in March and a soon-to-be-debuted Web site redesign.
Looking forward, Zachary said the organization is working on assessing smart growth management tools and strategies for Lihu‘e, a bi-annual community indicators report, and improvement of the first two miles of trail in Na Pali Coast Wilderness State Park and renovations to CCC Camp in Koke‘e State Park in partnership with Hui O Laka.
Under consideration are expansion of workshops offered on Kaua‘i as well as a “growing Smart, Living Green” series.
“It seems like there is some discord in the community (on sustainable growth),” she said, adding that the series would attempt to bring people together on the issue to create more common understandings.
KPAA serves as a neutral convener and facilitator, working with action teams and committees to develop and implement solutions to Kaua‘i’s priority issues.
In 2007 revenue was $302,000. Expenditures were $232,000, with the largest being $132,340 for salary and wages. The nonprofit currently has a fund balance of $130,000.
Zachary cautioned that as a project-oriented organization, the funds are usually accounted for, even if they are not being spent that calendar year.
“It’s not like this is just cash in the bank. That’s cash in the bank that’s going to be use,” she said.