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By Catie Tejeda

The Educational/Vocational Summer Series staff celebrated our small successes of the last 8 weeks.  We held a completion party on July 20th, where we congratulated our 16 youth and staff for participating in the first EdVoc Summer Series program.  The initial stages of organizing the Summer Series calendar were easier than I thought.  I kept saying this summer will be so much fun.   To be able take a group of young adults to different places around O’ahu and learn a variety of amazing things not only was it going to be an experience unlike anything I have ever done, but the youth are going to get so much out it.  To say it was easy or fun is an understatement.  Let’s just take look back to the first day…

Upstairs at Damon on June 3rd, Karen Thompson and I were excited and nervous to get to know our participating youth as well as each other.  The youth arrived enthusiastic and willing, which helped us believe it was going to be a great summer.  From there, activity after activity, reflection after reflection the youth were constantly changing and so was their quest to learn.

On July 3rd, we were half way into the Summer Series and had completed these activities: a beach cleanup with microplastic screens at Sherwoods Beach, helped restore a fish ladder in the Waihe’e stream that will allow oopu nopili (freshwater fish) to be able to navigate upstream and up steep waterfalls, made pet toys with Seniors who we sang songs and played bingo with, toured Foster Botanical Gardens and learned it takes 16 people holding hands to give their largest tree a hug, helped beautify Ma’o Farms by painting and making individual tiles that will decorate their new offices, created music with African drums at KUPU (a local nonprofit that focuses on teaching youth about conservation through obtaining vital work skills), watched and learned how to become an arborist at Lyon Arboretum and gathered information about how to look for and find geocaches.  I knew that our youth were changing but wasn’t sure how.

Then Leilehua Agricultural Center happened.  The L.A.C is a three-acre farm behind Leilehua High School run by Jackie Akuna and her father, Uncle Lani.  It is an outdoor classroom for Leilehua students to learn about farming and how to be a part of a community.  I was apprehensive about bringing our youth here.  They were going to have to work outside, in the sun with no complaints.  What was I thinking?  At that point in the Series I had constantly questioning whether our youth were getting anything out of the Summer Series or were they learning things that could help them in their lives.  They did share, “Yeah, that was fun” or “I’ve never done that before” but I felt something was missing.  We were missing the magic.  You know that feeling you get when what you’re doing clicks?

Then it happened…I saw our youth work together, teach each other how to cut lettuce from the hydroponic garden, laugh with one another as they had a shredded paper fight (after they covered the soil; a method used to help fight weeds) and they asked fun and interesting questions about what it ‘s REALLY like to run a farm. For the first time, I saw twelve youth working hard, getting wet and dirty, laughing, being respectful and truly enjoying themselves.  I was beginning to understand that all the educational and experiential days, the constant repeating of expectations and consistent role modeling were getting us ready for the day at the farm.  They were getting us ready for the Hale Kipa AWESOME-ness.  Then came the magic… Uncle Lani, a very direct and a-give-only-one-chance kind of guy, gathered with us in our end-of day circle and gave our youth the most heartfelt and honest compliment, “Eh, I no give chances, you come here to work, if you no work then get out.  But all of you worked and it was fun!  You are all welcome back anytime.”

I felt like a mama hen so proud her baby chicks (Hale Kipa youth) had begun to fly.  All of the EdVoc efforts to connect with our youth had finally worked.  They took what they learned, they held themselves accountable and the reward was a huge compliment from our local community member.  That day on the farm gave us the momentum and motivation we needed to make the last three weeks of the Summer Series our most amazing experiences yet.

What I was beginning to realize as I took my focus away from the process and into the present was that the Series gave everyone who participated, including staff, an opportunity to learn something new.  They learned not only about new places and activities but more about themselves and each other.  Once I began to feel this transformation, I encouraged our youth to challenge each other and themselves even more.  I asked them to step out of their “comfort zones” and into their “challenge zones.”

We started this new challenge with a hike up Kealia Trail above Mokuleia, then Stand-Up paddle boarded at Pokai Bay, next we swam in 60 feet of water on the Waianae Coast in hopes dolphins would come and play and finally ended with a long, guided walk to Kaena Point.

All of these activities and educational experiences our youth participated in were not just a way to stay busy, that would be an understatement, they were intentional and thoughtful experiences set up to get to know our Hale Kipa youth better than we ever have before.

Though each day in the Series was different, we tried to be consistent in starting each day off with circling up and checking in.  We asked our youth to tell us how they felt, using a range from zero to five (zero being not good and five feeling great).  Starting our completion party was no different, so we circled up and asked how each other was feeling with the majority of them stating they were feeling like a four.  As the party continued and congratulations were being given to everyone for completing the 8 weeks of activities and community service, we asked our youth a simple question.  “How has the Summer Series changed you?” or “what did you gain from being in the Summer Series? ” Most of our youth stated they had had fun, got to meet new people, looked forward to participating in new activities; learning more about the place they lived in.  Though the answers were vague, I saw the youth smiling and eager to share.  At the end of the party, we did our last circle-up and again asked how they felt.  This time, with the exception of one, all said I feel a five!