LIHUE — Inside success, there can be a little danger.
The longer favorable results come your way, there’s an easy, natural tendency to start to assume things will always work out.
But complacency, while comfortable, can be a killer.
So while Hale Opio Kauai celebrates 40 years of success this year helping mentoring young adults, its birthday message was one of congratulations, but also not to forget why, exactly, the nonprofit started its mission to transform kids into responsible adults.
“The further away you get, the more challenging it gets,” author and motivational speaker Ka’ala Souza told the crowd of 100 people Thursday night during a celebration marking its milestone at the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club. “Our values steer our actions and what you hold dear, your core, defines your values.”
While there was a reminder to stick to principles, Souza, who has been called “the Hawaiian Tony Robbins,” said it shouldn’t detract from what the organization has achieved so far.
“I can add nothing new at all,” he said in his speech that reminded volunteers, parents, board members and kids to think big, think ahead and know no goal should be out of reach. “Except to encourage you.”
Success stories that built the foundation over the last 40 years were celebrated.
“It took me to a place I needed to go,” said Catalina Landon, who graduated from Kapaa High School this year and is starting college this week. She entered the program without a true understanding of how to work for what one wants, and learned the art of self-discipline. “It actually felt like I had a family.”
Hale Opio was founded back in the 1970s as a way to support opportunities to develop kids’ interests and strengths in the least restrictive setting. It did so by providing support for attending school and after-school activities with the young people in its Learning Resource Center include art, culture and recreation.
“I never had to work for anything,” Landon said of herself before she entered the program.
Now, she sits on the HI H.O.P.E.S. (Hawaii Helping Our People Envision Success) board that works with kids in the program, and she thanked the volunteers for making her accountable for work, teaching her responsibility and “all the things I hated.”
“I feel very accomplish-
ed,” the 18-year-old said.
Luke Rita, who also graduated from Kapaa High School, agreed with Landon. After his dad died, he was rudderless, drifting through his days and foster care without direction or hope.
“What did you do for my life?” he asked the group in an emotional speech. “They gave me hope, they gave me a family.”
And without that, Rita said, he’d be in a much different place.
“I would probably be in jail right now, because I was just an angry guy,” he said.
The key is to keep going, Souza said. Success should be celebrated, but built upon, too. To do that, people should think nui, think big, and not settle on thinking small.
“Think nui-er,” he said during his witty, engaging speech. “Can I say that?”
It is too easy to think that Hawaii is isolated, just a small rock in the middle of the ocean, where progress doesn’t really matter to the rest of the world. Nothing could be farther from the truth, Souza said. Changing lives here will amplify the overall message and become a model for what everyone else should and could do.
“Congratulations for sticking it out,” he said. “You’ve been changing lives this whole time.”
Which is what Hale Opio did for Patricia Duh, a 20-year-old who lived in four foster homes and one homeless shelter and who now calls Kauai home. Duh serves as the foster care community advocate and collaborator with youth as board president for HI H.O.P.E.S., which is also the youth advisory board to the State Department of Human Services.
“I never would have imagined my life is where it is now,” said Duh, who was living in a house with uncles doing drugs as a 10-year-old; she was at school when Child Protective Services picked her up one day.
With the help of the nonprofit, Duh went on to eventually become a young professional. “Keep doing what you guys are doing,” she said.
What does transforming lives look like? It can be as simple as chores or mentoring young adults that their actions today matter for what’s in store for tomorrow. It can start with something as simple as helping them apply for jobs, offering rides to work, and setting up a savings account as a financial reminder that planning for the future means you have one.
And that takes the help of caring volunteers.
“These individuals are the bedrock of our organization,” LaVerne Bishop, executive director of Hale Opio Kauai, said about the volunteers and parents who make the program possible.
That’s true, said Rep. Derek Kawakami.
The state representative of Kauai District 14 didn’t read from a proclamation during the event, choosing rather to “speak from the heart.”
“For all the young adults, I want you to take a look around and know everyone here loves and cares about you,” he said.