Six Kihei patrol officers are among community members hoping to make a difference in the lives of some Kihei youths, as they embark on a yearlong mentorship program with a group of 24 intermediate school students.
"Really, I just hope the kids will know we care about them and we want to see them make good choices," said officer Emily Kibby, who helped come up with the idea for the Choice Mentorship Program.
Mentor officer Emily Kibby gets a hug from Emily Police.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"Some of the activities we have planned broaden their horizons so they can see what else is out there for their futures and give them some good community service opportunities."
Partnering with the Kihei Youth Center, Kibby wrote the Maui Police Department proposal to obtain the $65,000 Project Safe Neighborhoods grant for the program funded by the Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division of the Department of the Attorney General.
Lokelani Intermediate School and the Maui County prosecutor's office are also involved in the program, which is expected to include a cleanup project at the school and visits to the fire and police departments and the state courthouse. Also planned are gang-related eduational presentations, prevention education and character development.
"We have a year's worth of activities for the kids," said Lehuanani Huddleston-Hafoka, executive director of the Kihei Youth Center, the hub for the program. "Every month, there's a community project or an educational component where they'll go and visit various businesses."
Apart from the group activities, including a quarterly fun day, mentors will meet individually with their students, at times eating lunch with them at school.
"It's a formal program with informal strategies," Huddleston-Hafoka said. "The reason the program is called the Choice Mentorship Program is we believe it is vital for the youth participants to realize a myriad of choices they have in life."
At an ohana night kickoff Friday at the Kihei Youth Center, the 24 girls and boys entering grades 6, 7 and 8 were partnered with mentors including the police officers, Huddleston-Hafoka, Lokelani Intermediate teacher Stephanie Kamakeeaina, Maui County prosecutor's office Community Violence Prevention Program Manager Ana Makoni and kupuna Kimokeo Kapahulehua.
Families of both the students and mentors attended the event to fill the youth center.
Also attending was Flo Nakakuni, U.S. attorney for the Hawaii District, who said she was impressed with the program. "The Police Department is always involved in the community and with the community, and that's what it's all about," she said. "Because it's not just one agency, one organization. So many agencies are involved."
After learning about the grant, Capt. Tivoli Faaumu, commander of the Kihei Patrol District, said that he considered seeking funding for a crime reduction unit or to replace rusting all-terrain vehicles that police use to patrol South Maui beaches.
But the Kihei officers, some of whom volunteer as youth sports coaches, recognized that stepping into kids' lives during the "make or break" intermediate school age was another way to prevent crime, Faaumu said. He said officers did research during their off hours to come up with a proposal that was "very creative."
"Police officers now have a different vision," he said. "They're more involved in the community in their off-duty time."
Kibby, a soccer mom and Sunday school teacher, said that she hoped the program would help youths know that police officers are "real people - we're not scary."
She said she has seen the need for the program through her job as a police officer for the past four years. "Anytime it's midnight and you find a kid out walking down the street and smell alcohol on their breath," she said. "Or the juvenile runaway cases, beyond parental control cases."
Added fellow Kihei officer Mona Matsui, who has three children of her own: "I see all the troubled children we deal with in Kihei. It makes me want to help them."
Officer Devin Pagaduan, who has been a Little League coach, said he signed up to be a mentor because he wanted to see a better future for the youth.
"That's an opportunity to give them knowledge and get them on the right track," he said. "You're probably going to see the progress in these kids."
Officer Edmund Gilo said that he volunteered because "I wanted to help the community, give back to the community, help the kids."
Eleven-year-old Isaiah Tanner, who will be a 7th-grader, said he was happy that he and his two friends were paired with officer Brandon Asuega-Stark, who has been a coach for the Kihei Dolphins Pop Warner football team. "I'm excited," Isaiah said.
Richie Cacho, who moved to Maui from the Philippines two years ago, said she was glad that her two sons were participating. "They're going to learn more," she said.
While her 12-year-old son, Mark, said he wanted to join the Army when he's older, Cacho said she told him: "If you want to, when you grow up, you can be a police officer."
Makoni, who will be a mentor to three girls, also has her 11-year-old son, Viliami, and 11-year-old nephew Mo Malafu participating in the program. She said she was grateful that both boys are paired with officer Kawika Hong, who said an opening pule in Hawaiian to begin the night Friday. "He embraced his culture," said Makoni, who wants to see her son do the same. She had him dress in a traditional Tongan lava-lava Friday night.
"My hope is that just by being around police officers, seeing that they work hard and give back service, he picks up on that," she said. "A lot of kids think they can just get handouts. You got to work hard and at the same time, you got to give service."
Huddleston-Hafoka said part of the program is "to teach our kids when they make mistakes, it's OK - that's how they learn."
Students can talk to their mentors and expect healthy advice, she said. "Hopefully we can give them the skills to make right choices."
"I want the kids to understand that our police officers have families and they're people like you and I," she said. "But they made a choice to do something in our community, to help make our community a safer place. All of us want the best for our kids. Together as a community, I know and believe we can make a difference."
Retired MPD Sgt. Hervina Aguinaldo-Santos, who grew up in Kihei and spent much of her police career working with youths, will monitor students' grades and truancy as coordinator for the program.
"These kids are going to own this community," she said. "We're going to see graffiti go down, we're going to see our school attendance go up.
"We can make a change, and that's what this program is about."
While the grant will cover most program costs, it doesn't include money for food for activities, Huddleston-Hafoka said. Food and decorations for the ohana night were provided by Makena Beach & Golf Resort, Maui County Resort Hotel Security Association, Handley's Equipment Rental & Party Supply and Envision Entertainment.
Sponsors who might be willing to help with future events are asked to call the Kihei Youth Center at 879-8698.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.