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Learning how to make a difference, part 1

On Aug. 20, Halo Opio Kauai (HOK) celebrated its 40th anniversary. I was so proud to be a part of this meaningful organization for the past 10 years. It makes a difference. In those 10 years I’ve watched how the organization has extended its services to meet the needs of the community. That would be the natural expression of its mission statement: Hale Opio Kauai, inc. is dedicated to improving quality of life, enhancing a sense of belonging, increasing self-awareness, and strengthening Ohana by providing residential and community programs for education, prevention, diversion and treatment.”

Just as you change over time depending upon the influences of your environment and community, HOK has also kept up with the pulse of our community, and offered best practices programs to serve the needs.

In its beginning the greater need was to supply emergency safe housing, and then therapeutic foster care for kids in trouble. But it is much more now. While it still provides the emergency shelter, a group home, and some individual foster home placement, it was recognized that our community had other needs that needed service to improve the quality of life, and creating a sense of belonging.

Some of Kauai’s youth were still getting STDs, pregnant, abused in relationships, failing in classes, and not feeling a part of community or culture. Foster children who exited the programs at age 18 had no place to call home, or the prospects of going to college, and really making a difference in their lives. So there are now programs that meet those needs. HOK is no longer the place where the confused kids from troubled homes are sent. It is also a school to help all the island children learn how to have safe, healthy relationships, and to find their piece in the community puzzle.

One of the programs, and the next class that is available is entitled “Making a Difference (MAD) “Be Proud and Responsible.’” This class was developed at the national level to teach kids all across the U.S. Researchers found that it is a part of normal development for teens to be interested in sex, and in developing relationships.

MAD empowers youth to change their behavior in a way that will reduce the risk of becoming pregnant, causing someone to get pregnant, or becoming infected with STDs. It teaches youth how to talk about sex with a partner, and become aware of the risks and consequences of having a child. Having a child is life changing, and both parents would be responsible for the care and financial support of that child. An STD could become life threatening if it wasn’t treated. That’s a pretty big load for a child to carry.

It reminds students that the only sure way to not get pregnant or get an STD is to remain abstinent. And it helps students talk about that, and the other choices that they have.

As an incentive the first 10 youth who sign up and attend the class will receive a gift. If all 10 classes are attended there is another gift. Class size is limited to 12. Healthy snacks will be provided. Sign up by Sept. 11.

The class begins Sept 15. There are 10 1 ½ hour classes from 3 to 4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at the Hale ‘Opio art room downstairs on the right of the building at 2959 Umi St., Lihue. For more information contact Mary Ann Ornellas at 651-0584. Sign up with a friend, or even a sweetie if you like. The difference that you are making is in the quality of your life, and of your loved ones.

I will be covering more classes and introducing you to the new community programs director in the next article, but I wanted to share with you the new logo. It was designed by Kathleen Ho, who heads up Ke Kahua O Ka Malamalama experience. She will write an article describing this arts and cultural program the first week in November.

She presented this logo at the 40th anniversary event: With Ha’upu mountain in the background, representing our beloved island of Kauai, the mother kalo plant is catching and sharing the water, representing nurturing its keikis, as it protects them from serious elements.

This is what HOK is all about. Protecting the ones who need protection, and also nurturing the youth to help them grow to fruition as healthy, happy contributing human beings.

Many in the audience were moved as one girl shared that two years ago when she first entered a foster care setting, she was sad, felt disconnected, and didn’t have a dream for her life. In those two years she was introduced to other foster care kids, and made some great friends. Some of them belong to a program offered by HOK that helps exiting foster kids with home placement and getting an education.

She was supported in her high school, and taken to classes to learn how to drive. HOK staff rode with her as she accumulated her driving hours. She got her license, because she needed a car to get herself to college.

She learned how to apply for a job, and become a good worker through HOK’s First Jobs Academy program. She now has three jobs. She needs them to pay for the car that she purchased, because she needed one to drive to KCC. She needs to go to college for the job that she wants so she can live the life of her dreams. She has dreams for her life now. She has friends, a place that is hers, which she can keep clean and healthy, because she learned those important skills in her foster home, as well as learning how to cook some.

Her dream is to help other foster kids learn to live their dreams. I’d say that this beautiful almost adult kalo will also make a big difference nurturing the keiki she will connect with.

For more information about HOK, go to


Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at


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