Young people: The single most important investment in our future

  • Contributed photo

    Gary Hooser

As the new year rapidly unfolds it is important we remember to pause now and then, perhaps take a dip in the ocean or meander a bit on a nearby mountain trail, perhaps with child or grandchild in hand (and Max on a leash).

Regardless of your economic status or whatever cards you may have been dealt with in this life, if you are fortunate enough to live in these islands, chances are you are better off than 99 percent of those who live elsewhere on the planet. We are the true 1 percent, and we need to always remember that, especially when times are hard and challenges arise. Yes, lucky we live Hawaii.

In policy and politics the tendency is often to get caught up “in the big stuff,” and perhaps rightly so. The focus and discussions often center around traffic, affordable housing, crime, taxes, budgets, and false alarm ballistic missile attacks (sorry, I could not resist).

But at the end of the day it is the small things that make us happy, and it is the small things that smart policy makers will also include in their “things-to-accomplish list.” People in our community want and appreciate clean parks and restroom facilities, dog parks, skateboard rinks and community centers. When residents take their children to a park or sporting event, they want and expect the grass to be mowed and that the toilets have paper, and are clean and tidy.

While it may sound like a cliche to some, it truly is the small things that make a difference.

What is the cost, and what would be the benefit, if our county government also made it a top priority to support our existing youth programs, to a degree that they were the very best in the state?

Think about the impacts to our local families and youth if we as a community and as a government began increasing our support of our parks and our young people?

Many individual dedicated volunteers already do so much with so little. What if the county stepped up and offered additional support?

We currently have park facilities in every community, and we have a wide range of youth programs. Imagine if the County of Kauai began actively partnering more with those youth programs, engaging the youth in civic partnerships while supporting their programs with modest “matching grants.”

What would be the impact on drug use and abuse among our youth if their choices of after-school and weekend activities included a strong and wide array of programs including theater, art, hula, skateboarding, mountain biking, music, chess, computer animation, sports, auto mechanics, boating, fishing, and agriculture, not to mention scouting activities?

Many of these opportunities already exist and are managed by high-quality volunteer organizations tucked away in our towns and communities on every shore. The individuals and groups who run these programs are the true heroes, and deserve both our thanks and our active help and support.

For starters, we need to make it a point to stop at their car wash and give to that ever-present sports team raising money to travel to some far-off tournament. And yes, we need to purchase the laulau and hulihuli chicken as well, every chance we get, as we know they need uniforms for the team, or costumes for the play, or new computers or for whatever expense that goes with running a volunteer youth organization.

Many of us already do these things, but perhaps the county needs to do the same but on a larger scale. Our government funds tourism programs and other so-called non-essential services, so why not up the ante a little bit for youth programs?

Research shows that the most important factor in determining whether or not a young person goes astray in life is the presence (or not) of a positive adult role model, and as we all know the inherent risk of “idle hands” and boredom, especially when combined with the lack of a positive adult role model.

Kauai at one time had a vibrant “Hoolokahi Program” that supported community groups who partnered with the county on park improvements (cleaning/painting restrooms, picking up litter, park repairs, etc.). The model is simple and basic: The community group provided the labor and managed the project and the county provided materials (paint, buckets, trucks, etc.). Perhaps it is time to reinvigorate this program and expand it to support youth activities of all types, both sports activities and all others.

Perhaps it is time for the county to do more and actually invest public funds in support of the various youth programs already operating but constantly in need of help and support. The county could provide “matching funds” in the form of small grants to these worthy organizations and partner with them perhaps in civic projects that involve their youth membership. It would be important that the grant-making process be transparent, that no single organization or activity dominate, and that the grants be for special needs only and not for general operations. From arts to sports, all should benefit equally.

Drug-treatment facilities are much needed, but are extremely expensive to manage and implement. Education and enforcement are also important parts of the formula in reducing our community’s drug-abuse problems. A modest annual investment into a grant-making pool of funds to be matched by nonprofit organizations with community-raised funds or “sweat equity volunteer labor” is an essential element now missing, and could provide significant positive returns in human capital.

Supporting our existing youth programs, and expanding them to accommodate the needs and interests of all of our youth, must be a county and a community priority. Through these programs we can help build a stronger community foundation and provide that all-important positive adult role model missing from far too many homes.

Here is where our investment must start. Here is where we will get the biggest bang for our buck. And, without question, here is where we will impact the future of our community the most.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

  1. billyjoebob January 24, 2018 7:16 am Reply

    Everything you say here may be 100% spot on, I’ll call it ” right on talk “.
    The problem is you ( Gary ) had so many years in a position to make so much of this happen. The years I lived on Kauai I saw you do squat.
    Over 25 years in the making for a drug treatment facility? Could have hired a treatment company for the interim.
    As the system is now to get a group of the public to ” help ” would require at minimum 3 studies, 2 committees, funding, by the time it actually came to fruition we will all be long gone. ( Drug treatment facility as an example ) and of course more public employees would be needed to oversee each program.
    So keep writing your ” right on talk “, to me it is just a typical politician speak.

    1. Gary Hooser January 25, 2018 12:41 pm Reply

      Why the anger and snark? The purpose of this column is to share ideas on policy and politics. Instead of attacking, why not share positive ideas and suggestions, or even a contrary opinion? Yes, I did serve in public office for many years. My record is public and can be found here and I am proud of my accomplishments. As you know serving in the legislative branch means you do not and cannot act unilaterally and must have a majority of members agree to move a proposal forward. Please think about adding positive comments and perhaps even using your real name?

      1. billyjoebob January 26, 2018 2:21 am Reply

        Nice resume’! It wasn’t quite enough to get you reelected though. No anger, just voicing my opinion in an opinion column.
        If you don’t like people using fictitious names then best just to ignore and move on, but it got your attention didn’t it?

  2. Steve Martin January 24, 2018 9:04 am Reply

    I think our parks and facilities should be handled by a private sector contractor. Our governments managers have failed and because of the protection of public unions it will never change. And just think, we have managers so blind they want to be mayor as well.Sorry Gary our government track record only proves what I say. I know you are pro government, but I like many others see the reality of the situation. Let’s allow the private sector to prove it.I think we would see a far better approach to all of our needs. In my world it’s called incentives and doing the job you have been paid to do. You are the expert, just what is your excuse for allowing current government actions past, present and future?

    1. Gary Hooser January 25, 2018 12:43 pm Reply

      Thank you Steve for your comment. Just wanted to point out that the core of this column essentially proposes that government partner with private non-profits, by supporting their work and I am not advocating here for government to do more management. This is about private non-profits and volunteers providing the service and managing the project, and government simply providing them with support.

  3. HaloHalo January 24, 2018 11:47 am Reply

    Drug treatment facilities on this island will not work unless inpatient and completely secure. And that will never happen. Here’s why, You get ONE employee that is somehow related to or friends of the families dog of one of the patients and there goes your efforts. Drugs will get brought in through any means, and no one will say a word.

    Possibly, if you hired Mainland workers, and change them out every 6 months, you just might be successful for a year or two… but as long as there is a will there is a way.

  4. Steve Martin January 24, 2018 1:17 pm Reply

    First, the drug treatment rehabilitation housing center for youth would cost half of what the county or state red tape brings to the total cost of it if the private sector was to build it.Which means we are wasting tax dollars. Second, when it comes to a center for families children needing rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol it should be the families liability with insurance to help pay for the costs. The burden of these expenses to bulid the facility should not be the responsibility of those who work to pay taxes for it period. These are the wonderful things our politicians decide as the best way to handle issues.

  5. Steve Martin January 24, 2018 1:28 pm Reply

    First, the drug treatment rehabilitation housing center for youth would cost half of what the county or state red tape brings to the total cost of it if the private sector was to build it. Which means we are wasting tax dollars. Second, when it comes to a center for families children needing rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol it should be the families liability with insurance to help pay for the costs. The burden of these expenses to bulid the facility should not be the responsibility of those who work to pay taxes for it period. These are the wonderful things our politicians decide as the best way to handle issues.

  6. Steve Martin January 25, 2018 3:00 pm Reply

    Thanks for your response Gary…. Anytime government is involved it raises the cost dramatically. And we all know that in governments policies the word “creativity” is non-existent. I’m saying with the track record of our county let’s try a different approach that would allow a competitive angle to provide better services for residents as well as the tourists that use the services. How can government be a support without the cost going up dramatically. If we could choose to provide better services for less money why would we need governments involvement at all? Thanks for your time on this.

  7. Megeso January 26, 2018 8:33 pm Reply

    We need leaders not more politicians. Talking is over. We need men and women of action in righteous intention. No deals, no pork and line item veto by the people.

  8. andy January 26, 2018 10:47 pm Reply

    Once again, thank you Gary for your continued efforts on behalf of the people of Kauai. Having interacted with you over the years on several issues and projects I can personally attest to your commitment to the betterment of this community. Like you, I also have some questions for “Billiejoebob”: do you have some ideas and/or suggestions, and have you, in fact, done anything at all for the benefit of this island and its people? I’m not saying that you haven’t, I’m just wondering?

  9. billyjoebob January 27, 2018 1:48 pm Reply

    Andy, over the years I have made many suggestions especially regarding drug/alcohol treatment and the traffic congestion.
    If the powers to be were actually serious about helping people in the community with this serious problem they could have started by hiring a company that specializes in treatment and used one of the many empty buildings available. There were/are options. 25 years and still nothing? That is shameful.
    But like Megeso above comments, the island is so full of politicians rather than people that actually solve things that are in power.
    The traffic? Many on these threads have made excellent ideas but the can just continues to be kicked down the road. My final solution was to move. Seeing my friends that are suffering from the overcrowding and the lack of leadership I decided the best way was to eliminate my presence. The resources there are finite and it is just a matter of time before Kauai is totally destroyed by it’s own waste. We still have property and family on Kauai so I think I have as much right to voice my opinion as anyone.
    Would my opinion be any more valid if I used the name Bob or Fred or even Andy?.
    I happen to like the name Billyjoebob.

  10. Steve Marti January 27, 2018 8:32 pm Reply

    Gary… You say ” young people: the single most importantinvestment in our future”. Would you call Governor Ige’s actions with the legislators to cool all of our schools, and then pats himself on the back after halfas solving the problem. This is a prime example of why I don’t like poiiticians. They too have no creativity. Providing a/c’s for some students and not all students at the same time is what I call politics at it’s best, and then has the audacity to pat himself on the back for his accomplishments, because he got the legislators to provide some money. Once again this is a prime example of “creativity” not mentioned in the states policies of getting the job done. I have grand kids who have a/c’s in their class room yet others who must attend 100 degree classrooms. Just how is this considered as investing in our youths future. Would you go to work in a hot building. Do we have administrators with the dept. of education who work in 100 degree rooms? I doubt it. If we want to invest in their futures then we must invest in all the children, not just what the legislators and Governor decide is best for their budget.our children are the priority, not funds for the rail, or homelessness, or pay increases for public workers. You are right, our children’s futures should be the governor’ and legislators priorities first. And once again these priories are not happening. We need to change things for our children’s futures if we expect them to succeed.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.