BY THEMLA DREYER – Waianae Moku, Oahu, Hawaii. A Waianae based grassroots organization has been awarded a $4 million grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to support the Kauhale O Waianae: Youth Education and Entrepreneurship Initiative.  Kauhale will merge two of Hawaii’s premier youth enterprise programs, MAO Organic Farms and Searider Productions, to synergize and deepen their ongoing mission in enabling vulnerable Waianae youth in achieving secondary and post-secondary degrees while creating a highly skilled career pathway to bolster locally owned, excellence-driven social enterprises.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our kids in the community,” said Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, a state lawmaker from Waianae who has supported grants for MAO Farms in the past. “The grant money will help expand these programs that have already helped many of our youth.”

Kauhale takes the concept of “it takes a village to raise a child” one step further by providing youth with the opportunity to be more than just program participants. Core to the program’s philosophy, youth are also empowered to “raise the village” by being equipped with the skills and values needed to craft a better future for their community.

Spokesperson Kukui Maunakea-Forth, Executive Director of the non-profit Waianae Community Re-Development Corporation, which established MAO Organic Farms, said that the project draws directly from the positive, committed and creative work of the youth.

“With a third of MAO’s social program costs generated by the sale of top quality organic fruit and vegetables, it is the youth farmers who truly are the engine that drive the organization,” she said. “Empowered youth are key to positive social change. It is our belief that when we invest in the aspirations of young people, we tangibly effect the long-term systemic changes needed for the overall health and wellbeing of our community.”

Ric Gresia, business manager of Mākaha Studios (a for-profit spin-off of Searider Productions) added, “As a profitable media production company with clients in  Hawaii, North America, and Japan, we are proving that young adults from the Waianae Coast who have successfully completed media education programs at Searider Productions can pursue a career competing in the global media marketplace while living and working in and for their home community.”

Candy Suiso, founder and program director of Searider Productions at Waianae High School and a state Department of Education teacher for 25 years, praised the Kellogg Foundation’s backing of the merger.  “This is the right time, the right place and the right people.  As individual entities, each of the partners have amassed an amazing track record of programs and service, but by joining together, we can be a greater force that really seeds the educational transformation and change that needs to happen in Waianae,” she said.

Navigating education successfully is a real-life challenge for youth in a community where on average 30% of students drop out of school (versus 15% statewide).  Fifteen percent will go to college compared to 35% statewide and less than 50% of those college students will complete their degree-seeking program. Kauhales approach is to utilize tactile, culturally relevant approaches to contextualize and encourage academic success.

“In traditional times, the kauhale was the name for the extended family units that kept each ahupuaa self sufficient. Each had its kuleana (responsibility) to fulfill, be it managing the near-shore fisheries, or tending to kalo in the uplands, all worked in concert towards sustaining the kaiāulu (community) as a whole,” said Kamuela Enos, MAO’s Community Relations Director. “Kauhale pulls together our communities’ most active institutions in order to serve our most precious resources — our ōpio (youth), and our āina (land).”

Established in 1930, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society.

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