Gabbard: ‘Choose that hard right over the easy wrong’

LIHUE — If people start with a genuine and deep respect for one another, unbelievable things can be accomplished, according to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

That is something Hale Opio Kauai has been doing for nearly four decades.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Gabbard made a special stop on Kauai to deliver a keynote speech to those gathered at Hale Opio’s annual board meeting. She praised the organization for its 38 years of service and dedication to Kauai’s youth and their families, hailing the nonprofit’s work as a “tremendous and worthy cause.”

“It all stems from that belief in ohana, and that belief that if we all do our part, we will have greater opportunity, we will have a stronger and brighter future, for those wonderful youth that you are serving,” she said to the nearly 85 people in attendance.

Gabbard said the organization’s years of service speak for itself.

“To me, what all of you do, the work that you represent, not only instills a sense of belonging and a sense of self-worth … but it highlights resilience, it highlights opportunities, and helps to empower our next generation of leaders,” she said at the Kauai Marriott Resort in Lihue.

Since 1975, Hale Opio has provided residential and community programs for education, prevention, diversion and treatment, according to its mission statement.

Its programs include therapeutic foster homes, emergency shelter services and victim impact classes.

Board President Curtis Law said this year has been “back to the future” for Hale Opio.

“We’re using the core skills honed for our nearly 40 years working with youth and families on Kauai to generate options for youth and propel them into the future,” he said.

As part of its First Job Academy program, Law said 78 Kauai youngsters were trained over the last year — 38 of whom found employment. About 22 of those 38 youth members who found employment maintained those jobs for over six months.  

Last year, the Kauai Teen Court program — which Law described as one of his favorites — successfully diverted 90 percent of the 178 youth who were referred to the program from reentering the court system.

“That should deserve some applause,” Law said, drawing just that from the crowd.

LaVerne Bishop, executive director of Hale Opio, said after the event that she was “delighted” to have Gabbard as the guest speaker. She described the congresswoman as a model and inspiration — someone committed to a life of service.

“It just feels like when Tulsi is talking about ohana, this is the ohana for our kids,” Bishop said by phone Wednesday. “We’re all working together to really benefit the young people of Kauai and it’s not just the most at-risk kids.”

Bishop said she views the annual event as a chance to thank everyone for the work that they do and for being stewards of this island community.

“(It’s) a time for the community that works with young people to have an opportunity to enjoy one another’s company and celebrate the work that’s being done,” she said. “The networking is so important.”

Gabbard said she draws inspiration from the service and leadership of people like those at Hale Opio and that it is important to encourage those who face difficult paths to “choose that hard right over the easy wrong.”

“When you’re faced with a closed door, with 10 deadbolts on it, find a way through that door,” she said. “Find a way to unlock those locks.”

Toward the end of her 20-minute speech, Gabbard reminded the audience to remember the children who have come through programs like those at Hale Opio when the going gets tough.  

“No matter how hard it is, they’re picking themselves up, taking responsibility and moving forward,” she said.

For more information about Hale Opio Kauai and its programs, visit haleopio.org or call 245-2873.

• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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