From vision to reality at Kujo’s

KALAHEO — A Kalaheo convenience store has become the first in the state to undergo a makeover designed to downplay its sale of beer, wine and other spirits, according to the coordinator of Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol.

Brenda Jose of the county Anti-Drug Office served as the hostess for the project that gave Kujo’s Mini Mart, formerly a liquor store, a more family friendly look and atmosphere.

Government dignitaries and family friends and relatives of Sera Octovio-Callejo crowded the small store across from the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, braving the sprinkles Saturday which accompanied the dedication ceremony officiated by Rev. Wayne Vidinha of Ke Akua Mana Church.

“The message today is the kids have the vision and ideas and can bring it to the adult leaders who make it work,” said Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. “We all need to look for more positive ways to improve our island home.”

State Rep. James Tokioka, D-15th District, said the dedication and work done by the young people is exciting.

Working under the guidance and supervision of the Anti-Drug Office, a group of 10 young people coming from different parts of the island worked to transform the image of Kujo’s from being mainly a liquor store to one of a family friendly business.

Kujo’s will still be selling alcohol, but only to responsible people, said Theresa Koki, director of the Anti-Drug Office.

Tobey Aguano, a student from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School who lives in Kalaheo, approached Jose at the school during a discussion on underage drinking.

“The store was not kid-friendly with all its alcohol signs,” Aguano said.

The school discussion was the birth of the project, Jose said. Following a period of inactivity, the students met during an alcohol awareness seminar in April and Team Kujo’s was formed to see the project to completion.

The students decided they wanted to make a difference by tackling a project which uses appropriate messaging to help their peers make healthy choices as well as serve as a catalyst for community members to move toward changing social norms about underage drinking, states a county news release.

“A lot of people talk the talk,” said Kaua‘i County Council member Mel Rapozo. “These people walk the talk. Congratulations, young people, for having the idea and getting the adults to work with you.”

During the project, Jose said almost all of the posters promoting alcohol and smoking were removed from Kujo’s and replaced with family-friendly advertising.

The store was also repainted with help from Richard Jose who worked with the students and volunteers.

“This project has taught Caitlyn, one of the Team Kujo’s members, the importance of community members working together to help raise awareness about the problem of underage drinking,” said Tracy Bukoski, Caitlyn’s mother, in the county release. “She now sees how making simple changes in a store can send a powerful message and will hopefully help to reduce underage drinking in our community.”

Kaua‘i County Council member Dickie Chang said the Octavio and Callejo families are to be thanked for their part in the project.

“Zack Octavio is always seen in the community in his role with the American Medical Response teams,” Chang said. “Now he’s helping in a different way. What these young people are doing is setting a new standard for their peers.”

Topaz Fernandez, a relative of the Octavio-Callejo ‘ohana who was recently crowned the 2011 Miss Kaua‘i Filipina, said she supports these young people, not only because of the new atmosphere and look of Kujo’s, but because it shows other young people that anything is possible.

“I would like to commend Brenda and Team Kujo’s for spearheading this project,” Koki said. “They have done a terrific job and truly serve as role models. I would also like to recognize the store owner, Sera Octavio-Callejo and her family, for their willingness to partner with the Anti-Drug Office in this endeavor.”

Marina Octavio said the celebration is not complete without a silent auction for some of the memorabilia signage which were too good to toss out.

Proceeds from the silent auction will be donated to the Kaua‘i Police Activities League which hosts numerous activities for Kaua‘i’s young people.

“I am so proud of this group for taking this underage drinking prevention project from idea to reality,” said Jose. “If there are any other people who would like to work on a similar project, they can call the Anti-Drug Office at 241-4926.”

Funding for the Kujo’s makeover is provided through the state Department of Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Strategic Prevention Framework — State Incentive Grant.

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