LIHUE — When Marion Paul learned that 9 percent of high school students on Kauai tried to commit suicide last year, she couldn’t believe it. In fact, she double-checked to be sure it was accurate.
When she found it was, she was alarmed — and she knew something had to be done.
“It was such an appalling number,” said Paul, president and CEO of Kauai Planning & Action Alliance.
“People are beginning to see it’s an epidemic,” she added. “We need to do something.”
An action committee was created under Keiki to Career Kauai, an initiative of KPAA, with initial funding provided by Hawaii Community Foundation. It consisted of representatives from education to health, social services, and the faith community.
Their goal, to find out why teens were losing hope, why so many were attempting suicide. One aspect of their task was talking to teens. What were they seeing, feeling and thinking?
“And that opened the floodgates,” Paul said.
More than a half a year later, the “Kauai Resilience Project” was born to provide solutions for the community and hope for teens.
“Our goals are very simple,” she said. “It’s to build resilience.”
Councilmember Mason Chock is chair of the Kauai Resilience Project.
“In the coming months, we will be planting positive seeds so that our youth and adult education campaigns will begin to resonate and take on a life of their own in the realms of social media, face-to-face interactions, family relationships, and day-to-day living,” said Chock. “In a few years, we envision a healthier and happier, more resilient Kauai.”
Paul said mental health experts have established 40 factors that build resilience in children and that resilience is key in curbing suicide.
Some of these factors include extracurricular activities, youth empowerment, and setting boundaries.
That’s where the community is being called to action, as well.
“We want to build what’s not there,” Paul said. “What’s not there is this environment for kids where there are safe places to gather after school.”
Adult support, whether from family, a teacher or a neighbor is also a critical factor.
“It just takes one person,” Paul said. “All the studies show it takes one caring adult to really listen to youth, to take the time to ask, ‘Are you OK?’”
Adults, even those who don’t know youth, can play a role. They can get to know teens through churches, service clubs or community events, she said.
In the coming months, project members will be taking their message to neighborhoods asking for ideas on how to best help youth. They will also be asking adults to step up.
“We have people doing great things. We just need more of them,” Paul said.
Twenty-eight percent of the island’s youth reported feeling sad and worthless, according to the 2018 Kauai Youth Report by Keiki to Career Kauai.
Why is that?
Answers do not come easily.
“It’s a quiet crisis,” Paul said. “Our young people need us right now.”
“Our youth often feel very disconnected,” said Nannie Ann Apalla, program manager. “They want to be connected. They feel that Kauai caters more to tourists than to them. They’re kind of pushed to the side.”
“They want to matter. They want to contribute,” she said.
Paul said youth today face anxiety from different directions — from social media to economic factors to strained relationships with family and friends.
There are ways to help.
“It doesn’t take money, it takes time,” Paul said.
“It’s a little Pollyanna in a way, but truly, it’s going back to a simpler time. We just need to slow down,” she said.
The Kauai Resilience Project, bottom line, wants to increase youth resilience and life skills and reduce youth suicide and suicide attempts.
A goal is to build young people’s ability to adapt to adversity and successfully navigate life’s challenges.
To do that, the community’s help is needed.
“Public education is first step in working towards our goals,” stated Darcie Yukimura, Hawai’i Community Foundation’s Director of Community Philanthropy.
“We want to share the message that Kauai’s kids are all of our kids, and every one of us can contribute to this effort,” Paul said.
Kauai Resilience Project
The Kauai Resilience Project is a community initiative to build young people’s ability to overcome adversity and successfully navigate life’s challenges so they can lead enriched, fulfilled and purposeful lives.
There is a quiet crisis among our island youth. Nine percent of Kauai high school students attempted suicide last year. Twenty-eight of our young people reported feeling sad or worthless for extended periods of time.
• To increase community protective factors around youth
• To build youth resilience and increase their life skills
• To reduce youth suicide and suicide attempts
What we discovered
Over the course of six months, we convened multiple youth groups in high schools, middle schools and after school settings; we reviewed the latest research and best practices for building youth resilience; we interviewed experts in the field; we spoke to school principals and counselors; and we met with Kauai leaders. As a result of this research, we discovered some fundamental truths that will help our young people thrive.
• Our young people need to learn more life skills and social-emotional tools in school.
• Our young people need to spend less time on social media and digital devices.
• Every young person needs access to after-school programs or activities, without barriers such as tuition, fees or transportation.
• Our young people need safe and fun places to gather on evenings and weekends.
What are protective factors
The Search Institute identifies 40 positive supports and strengths that young people need to become more resilient and to succeed. These include positive relationships and opportunities in their families, schools, and communities as well as their inner social-emotional strengths, values, and commitments. At the same time, the goal is to decrease negative behaviors such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco use, bullying, truancy and unprotected sex.
To find out more, go to www.keikitocareer