Program fosters trust with a strong male presence

Kaua‘i Team Challenge founder Mason Chock is convinced that a contributor to low self-esteem among boys is the absence of rights of passage in Western society. In ancient Hawai‘i, after the “ka i mua” ceremony, boys were allowed to enter the “hale mua” or men’s house, to eat, learn, pray and identify their masculinity with their father or substitute father.

“A father is more than genetics,” Chock said. “It’s up to us as males to raise everyone around us.”

Kaua‘i Team Challenge is an organization born of the intent to build a healthy Kaua‘i community through customized programs that offer experiential education and adventure-based therapy. Founded by a group of concerned citizens in 2002, the organization provides services for youth and adults that involve developing cultural sensitivity, collaboration, communication, problem solving and trust.

One program designed specifically to empower Kaua‘i youth is “Kukui Malamalama: Mentoring Children of Kaua‘i.” What began as a partnership with the Waipa Foundation to provide mentors to children of incarcerated parents has broadened its focus to include all at-risk-youth.

Chock is initiating a more collaborative Kaua‘i effort for the island’s youth by creating a program that casts a net further than blood relations. By developing the Kukui Malamalama program, he is encouraging community members to become active role models.

“These boys are crying out for a connection to male energy,” Chock said.

Two years ago Andrew Stenovich joined Kukui Malamalama as a mentor to a 13-year-old boy.

“I was interested in working with Mason in this program and the best way to do that was to be a mentor,” Stenovich said. “On a deeper level, I moved here seven years ago and feel like I’ve taken a lot from the island, and this was a way to pass my experiences on to someone so we could both learn something.”

Stenovich sees his eventual pairing with his present mentee as pre-destined.

“The person I was supposed to be with didn’t show up (to the meeting) and there was another boy,” he said. “There was an initial spark between us.”

Despite the fact the mentee lived 45 minutes away, the match had made itself.

“Usually they like to keep the distance between mentor and mentee between 10 and 15 minutes away,” Stenovich said.

The distance isn’t a deterrent for Stenovich though.

“The only disappointment is I know I’d see him more if he weren’t so far away.”

Stenovich said he receives more than he has given.

“A little bit of effort has a huge effect,” he said. “I had no idea it was going to be a win-win. I just wanted to share experiences, then I got filled up with this wonderful feeling. If people had any idea how much they would get by giving, more people would be knocking down the door to do it.”

The minimal requirement of the program is two phone calls a month plus one visit and one group outing with other mentors. The monthly events are adventure themed and educational. Past outings include a ropes course, tubing down the old irrigation tunnels with Kaua‘i Back Country Adventures and a visit to Kamokila Village on the Wailua River. Of course these events are free of charge and include lunch.

The monthly visits with mentees do not have to be elaborate though.

“Just an hour throwing a Frisbee, reading or we go for a walk,” Stenovich said.

When this 36-year-old outdoorsman tells his friends about the program he is baffled by their response.

“They say, ‘I’m not mentor material,’” said Stenovich. “You don’t have to be an angel, I tell them, just be consistent. Experiences are what make life real.”

Wisdom often arrives on the heels of bad experience and Stenovich encourages those who’ve taken a few knocks from life to find the courage to share with Kaua‘i’s youth.

“The more times you’ve bumped your head, the more you have to share,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of experiences and not all good. Hopefully I can shed some insight so he doesn’t do the stupid things I’ve done. All that stuff isn’t so stupid now that I can share it.”

Stenovich has not only developed a friendship with his mentee, but also with the boy’s mother.

“I feel really lucky that we had such a solid connection. I got to know his mom and we all became friends,” he said. “There’s a love there.”

Reliability is key in the mentoring relationship since establishing trust is the foundation on which all relationships begin.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” he said. “But the other commitment is to be on island for a year. If you’re coming and going it can have a more negative effect — you are there to be consistently in this person’s life.”

The process to becoming a mentor begins by attending one of the monthly outings. June 28 is the next one — a Wailua scavenger expedition where potential mentors can meet people in the program.

While there are girls in the program, Chock sees a surplus of boys.

“We have so many mentees and a shortage of male mentors,” Chock said.

“We tend to worry about ourselves,” said Stenovich. “We need to worry about each other and look after each other. When you give something … you are showing that you are grateful. It’s so important, this is such a special place. We are so lucky to live here.”

To join the group for an outing or learn more about Kukui Malamalama call 651-7013 or e-mail mason@kauaiteamchallenge.com

• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or pwoolway@kauaipubco.com

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