Hale Opio art program: nurturing, safe environment

Art is a very important part of most cultures throughout the world. It is a way of expression not limited by words and their meanings. Instead, art allows individual interpretation and often more elaborate explanations of feelings and information that can reach across language barriers and capture appreciation from communities, residents and visitors.

Art has also been shown to be therapeutic and can be a healthy form of self-expression and self-discovery for adults and adolescents. Many youth organizations use art as an avenue for positive youth development, stimulating creative and innovative thinking as well as building self-confidence and self-discovery through personalized creations.

Numerous studies have shown art engagement at a young age can have positive effects on both social and emotional behaviors in youth; controlling moods and learning to share and cooperate as a group to name a few. For at-risk youth, engaging in art has been found to help develop problem-solving skills, boost grades and strengthen high school graduation rates for some.

It is because of these benefits in early childhood that Hale Opio has had a dedicated art and cultural department for over 40 years and continually strives to provide a nurturing and safe environment for youth to express themselves and connect to their community, environment and Hawaiian culture.

Kathleen (Kat) Ho has spearheaded this endeavor for over 30 years at Hale Opio. Ke Kahua O Ka Malamalama, meaning the foundation of the light of knowledge, art and culture, was launched in 2009 and has served as an after-school program for all Kauai youth from all spec trums of life.

I sat down with Kat last week to learn more about the program, its goals for the youth in our community and her observations on the effects she has witnessed on participants:

Why do you think art is so important for youth?

“Opening students to the world of art is a great avenue for alternative and positive self expression. A fundamental part of the human experience, art can help lead youth on the important path of self-discovery. Being exposed to art stimulates creative and innovative thinking and builds self confidence.”

What exactly is Ke Kahua O Ka Malamalama?

“Ke Kahua O Ka Malamalama is an after-school program based on Hawaiian cultural values and utilizes project-based learning. It focuses on experiences in nature and shared learning with kupuna, cultural practitioners, scientists and community leaders. This program offers a holistic approach: creative and cultural experiences that allow youth to learn positive, alternative forms of self and group expression and communication.

What role do you think Hale Opio’s art and cultural program has played in the development of Kauai youth?

“The students gain new skills and have new experiences that they might not otherwise have. Making decisions, working alongside community members, and connecting to their environment, are just a part of the process.”

What are some of the recent art projects you have done and how have they impacted the community?

“In the last few years youth have been helping to create public art projects. The latest project was finished last week when 50 Kauai youth helped to create a life size paper mache monk seal. This seven-foot seal is installed at the Lihue Airport as part of an educational display that celebrates “The Year of the Hawaiian Monk Seal.”

In the process of making this exhibit, students learned about the plight of this critically endangered seal, Hawaii’s official state mammal. It will be on display through the month of June.

Four mosaics have also been created, three of which are in Nawiliwili area. These mosaics are designed from place-based inspiration and portray the rich cultural history of the area. Students learn the techniques of creating and installing large outdoor murals using recycled tiles, many donated by Habitat for Humanity. The latest mosaic was completed in August 2016 and is installed at Niumalu Beach Park.”

What benefits have you personally witnessed in the youth?

“In my years of experience I have seen the positive impacts that these programs have had on youth and their personal development. Students that feel like they are not artistic, break through multiple barriers, winning art contests and transforming their lives. One student taking part in a community art project was very proud and said he looks forward to the future to show his grandchildren the mosaic he helped to create.”



Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i 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 Esther Solomon at esolomon@haleopio.org For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to www.haleopio.org


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