Finding their roots

LIHUE — When program leaders and keiki helpers from the Boys and Girls Club in Lihue kick-started a Lihue Court Townhomes gardening project nearly two years ago, they knew there was a ton of work to do.

It wasn’t one afternoon picking dandelions.

More like months of hacking through a jungle.

“When they (the keiki) started, the weeds were taller than them, so they really didn’t know what they were getting themselves into,” said Angela Agustin, the program director of the Boys and Girls Club’s Lihue outreach location. “It was amazing.”

Eventually, however, the sweat and brow-burning labor paid off. Over the next two summers, nonprofit program leaders supported by youth volunteers cleared the soil and planted vegetables and flowers in the once weeded areas, including sunflowers, papaya trees and peanut plants.

And the result, plenty of people say, has been a huge successful one.  

“When they started off, they identified all the different bugs, weeds, flowers and trees that were already there … and now that it’s a full-fledged garden, they’re learning how you can harvest it, bring it home, cook it and be healthy,” said Tina Albao, business manager at the Lihue outreach location. “They’re learning from the ground up.”

Efforts to continue this project and others like it, however, were at risk of being eliminated or scaled back at a time when demands for the nonprofit’s after school services were increasing, Agustin said.

But that won’t happen this year or the next year, thanks to a two-year $171,638 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The gifted money ensures the gardening project and other learning opportunities like it will continue to be provided by the three Boys and Girls Club outreach locations on Kauai.

“This is a huge blessing for our organization,” Agustin said of the infusion of financial support. “This program is actually helping us subsidize staffing and keeping programs available.”

The grant, which was awarded in conjunction with a $16,338 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant from the County of Kauai, helps fund the nonprofit’s Hoomau Hui Cultural Learning Project.

Christian Maea, program director at the Boys and Girls Club clubhouse in Kapaa, said the Hoomau Hui Cultural Learning Project builds on existing after-school programs provided for students between ages 7 and 17 at the nonprofit’s three sites on the island and encompasses several main components.

The primary component, he said, is providing sports, health and fitness activities for children in the Boys and Girls Club, with an emphasis for those who are of native Hawaiian ancestry.

The goal is aimed at reducing high obesity rates and reaching out to at least 290 native Hawaiian children. It is tracked by the Boys and Girls Club every six months by taking height, weight, blood pressure and body mass index measures from each participating child in the program.

“What we’re finding is that a lot of them are pretty unhealthy,” Maea said about the results from some the test results. “We did some blood pressure readings the other day and they were extremely high for kids who are 7, 8 or 9 years old. So, what we want to do is improve the health of these kids, especially the native Hawaiian kids, and also help the at-risk youth who may not have anywhere to go after school.”  

Other key program components, Maea said, include cultural activities, such as ukulele, paddling, gardening classes and quarterly Ohana Nights, where children can bring in their families to socialize. The program is also important because it helps to bridge the “cultural disconnect” that exists among some native and non-native Hawaiian children who live in Hawaii.

While the work ahead may seem daunting at first glance, the club’s recent track record shows it can be done.

As easily as planting a garden.

For more information about the Hoomau Hui Cultural Project, contact the Boys and Girls Club’s Kapaa clubhouse at 821-4406, Lihue clubhouse at 245-2210 or Waimea clubhouse at 338-6837.

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