KAPAA — Kaylynn Drake celebrated her 16th birthday Saturday surrounded by family and friends at Kapaa Beach Park.
“Kaylynn has always been a special part of our ‘ohana,” said Mary Lardizabal, director of the Kapaa Middle School choir and ukulele band. “She, especially her fire knife dance, was part of our choir and has shared our happiness.”
Lardizabal and part of her award-winning group opened the day at the second Free Keiki Fun Day and Fitness Challenge presented by Drake’s foundation, KekuaAloha, which focuses on a healthy and active lifestyle.
“My hope is to raise awareness about suicide by helping our community organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevent who help educate, provide support, and research toward ending suicide,” said Drake, a boarding school student at the Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama campus.
Michelle Kimura of the Kauai Suicide Task Force said according to reports, Hawaii is ranked No. 2 in the nation for suicides. Of those figures, Kauai is ranked No. 1 in the state for suicides.
“I don’t know why that is, or why people commit suicide,” said Kyla Koerte, Drake’s cousin who was helping out. “Maybe it’s partly because of online bullying, or social media pressure. But Kaylynn has a fun event.”
Jazlyn Rapozo of the Kapaa High School peer mediation group stopped to visit with the Kauai Suicide Task Force with the group’s adviser, Keith Kitamura.
“We had a student at school commit suicide,” Rapozo said, donning several strands of colored beads. “THe whole school was affected. Everyone was really sad and depressed.”
Drake, too, said she was touched by a family member who committed suicide.
Rapozo’s awareness of teen suicide started during her involvement with the “Out of the Darkness Walk” at the Kukui Grove Center as a Miss Pre Teen title holder with Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.
“I was accompanied by the mayor at the walk, and as we led the procession of walkers, I felt compelled to get involved — even at age 12,” Drake said. “Since then, I have lost friends and family to suicide. This is my way of keeping their memory alive.”
Those experiences led her to host the free Keiki Fun Day and Fitness Challenge.
“My journey allowed me to share my passion about living a healthy and happy lifestyle with my peers,” Drake said. “As a teenager, I know it’s not easy. We are under a lot of pressure. This may not be a cure to obesity, bullying, or suicide, but I believe it may help our youth to make healthier choices by staying active.”
Drake started KekuaAloha Foundation in 2016 to take a stand against teenage suicide in Hawaii by sharing God’s love.
“My favorite quote is from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch,” the teenager said. “‘Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind, or forgotten.’”