‘Hale ‘Opio will always be there’

LIHUE — When Kevin Lowry was nine years old, his mother became a foster parent.

The effort she put into helping kids have better lives was not lost on her son. Giving back, being part of the solution, was always on his mind.

Today, Lowry is a treatment programs director with Hale ‘Opio on Kauai, where he especially enjoys working with families.

“I just love everything about what I do,” he said to a crowd of about 80 people at the organization’s recent annual meeting of the board of directors at the Kauai Marriott Resort.

He told of a recent graduate of the Hale ‘Opio job program who came to them at 13 years old. He had been in and out of group homes since nine.

“His first year with us was really rough,” Lowry said.

Hale ‘Opio and its staff worked with the youth who turned out to be “absolutely fabulous.” Last week, the youth stood up at his going away party and said it was the first time in his life he has ever felt accepted.

“This is his ohana,” Lowry said. “This is where his home is going to be.”

Many of the 19 employees stepped before the crowd and offered why they loved their jobs and the impact its had on them and Hale ‘Opio’s clients.

Philip Morgan, a therapist, said their success is due to a group effort. They look at what the needs are of each client and how they can help.

As a result, they are changing lives for the better, he said.

“I love it,” Morgan said.

The nonprofit began serving disconnected youth from across the state at its group home on Kauai 40 years ago. Today, it provides more than 20 programs for about 500 young people that teach skills, strengthen relationships, and offer opportunities to nurture the positive development of youth.

“We’re all in this together,” said Laverne Bishop, who has been with Hale ‘Opio since 1976, became program director in 1984 and executive director in 2010.

Bishop is stepping down from her post early next year. She believes it is on the right path.

“We’re in a really good situation,” she said. “I think it’s important for us to always be mindful of the business trends that are out there, be innovative and out in front rather than reactive. I think that’s been one of our strengths.”

She was touched by the comments of her staff, who praised the organization and Bishop.

“It’s really all one voice in a way. They either came to this by virtue of someone making a difference in their life or they came to it by being called to provide a leg up for somebody else,” she said.

Bishop said it was just time for another executive director about her decision to leave.

A new executive director will come on board early next year as a transition takes place over the coming months.

“I think we found someone who will be excellent,” she said.

Bishop said she preferred to keep the spotlight on Hale ‘Opio and the “incredible need” for foster parents.

“The news here is the work that is being done by those directly involved with developing our young people’s potential,” she wrote.

She said that nationwide, fewer people are stepping forward to work with teenagers.

“We really do need more families to step up,” she said. ‘The numbers just keep dwindling.”

While Hale ‘Opio once had 14 foster parents, today there are only three.

“We just need more people who are courageous and who believe in young people,” she said.

Hale ‘Opio provides training and support for foster parents.

People don’t need to own a home or be married to foster parent.

“You don’t have to be anything except a nurturing, smart, concerned individual,” Bishop said.

If anything, she asked if there could be a call to action for the community to raise its young with purpose and honor.

“The rise in children going into foster care and the dearth of those willing to commit to the work of saints in cherishing these young people to a promising future is important,” Bishop wrote.

Annaleah Atkinson, author of In Your Corner for Hale ‘Opio, credited Bishop’s passion and dedication.

”This lady kept Hale ‘Opio afloat,” she said. “I admire her so much.”

For her part, Bishop said she’s pleased to do all she can for young people who need help.

“Hale ‘Opio will always be there,” she said.

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