There are 126 young smiling faces in Hana.
And there may be more as Hana School's building program, Ma Ka Hana Ka 'Ike, continues to help children from as young as 2 to 12 years old make their own skateboards.
Over the summer, Executive Director Rick Rutiz along with his apprentices and high school students from the award-winning Hana High School program, mentored each of the keiki, teaching them how to sand and glue their boards.
Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike graduate apprentice Russell Stoner helps 6-year-old Kuikawa Park-Jeremiah sand his own skateboard recently. The Hana High School building program, helped East Maui children from 2 to 12 years old build their own skateboards during the summer.
RICK RUTIZ photo
"The little kids had to do it themselves. Just watching their faces was amazing. . . . It was just magic; the looks in their faces," Rutiz recalled. "It was just really fun."
Rutiz said his group began the mentoring program in May and as of last week, there were still more youngsters signing up to make their own boards that they can use at Hana's new skate park, Pa'ani Maii, which opened May 10.
Hana parent Lehua Jeremiah said that she quickly signed permission forms to have her three sons, ages 6, 9 and 11 years old, make their own skateboards over the summer.
"I thought this was a good idea. Rick has done a lot for the community, for the adults and the kids. Considering they made a skate park in Hana; it was just even more perfect for him to do something like this for the babies," Jeremiah said. "The kids enjoyed it; I think the parents enjoyed it."
The youngsters paid $25 each for the boards they made, even though it actually cost the group $60 each.
Rutiz said if anyone could not afford to pay, the fee would be waived.
"It's part of who we are and what we do," Rutiz said of the goodwill gesture. "It's just part of our nonprofit."
But Jeremiah said spending $75 for her three sons was worth it.
"We got the better end of it. I appreciate it very much," she said.
Ma Ka Hana Ka 'Ike was founded in 2000 and relies on grants and private donations. Each year, there are 40 to 50 students from grades 9 to 12 that participate, plus graduate apprentices who return to mentor the students while continuing their own training. The program offers a hands-on construction skills training program for at-risk youth in East Maui.
James Freudenberg-Pu, a graduate apprentice who helped out with the summer event said, "It's a really good program; a lot of the kids didn't have skateboards."
"It felt good," mentoring the younger kids, the 23-year-old said.
Another graduate apprentice, 27-year-old Lyman Diego, said: "It was a good experience, especially when you are teaching how to do something. When you are teaching something you gain more from it."
He said it was both "easy" and "hard" working with younger students.
Diego said the students were obedient; but at times had to be hurried along, as they were working with glue that was drying quickly.
But overall Diego said it was just "good fun."
Building program participant, Shaka Kalalau, a 14-year-old Hana High sophomore, added: "It was real fun just to help little kids to do something and see a smile on their face. It was real motivating."
Rutiz said that the graduate apprentices, program participants, along with the youngsters' parents all helped the keiki with their boards.
"The kids came in. They expected us to make (the boards) for them," Rutiz said. "What they realized is they had to pick up the glue and the roller and roll it on and do it right."
Rutiz said there weren't complicated carpentry skills needed to put the boards together so the mentors didn't have to worry about youngsters using dangerous machines.
Having the youngsters make their own skateboards grew out of the building program's efforts while high school students in the program were learning to make their own "top-notch" boards.
Rutiz said the program already made skateboards, but since there was the new skate park being built, the program "got seriously interested in wanting to be able to offer the kids something really top notch that they could do themselves," so they started to use professional-grade veneer.
The program ordered skateboard kits from a company in Toronto that uses Canadian maple wood. The kits also come with a vacuum bag kit that is used to bend the wood.
In addition to making skateboards, students and apprentices from Rutiz's program had a hand in building the skate park.
Rutiz said some of the students in his program are skaters and wanted to help with the construction. At first, workers were wary but, in the end, Rutiz said the students won the workers over, and there were around 20 students from his group that helped out.
Rutiz was thankful for Grindline Skateparks, for allowing his students to help.
"They were amazing. They did not just throw a shovel at our guys, they taught them every phase of the operation.
. . . They were great teachers," Rutiz said.
The graduate apprentices and those who helped with the park all said they learned new skills that included finding a new way to work with cement.
Rutiz said that because his students were able to help with the skate park project, more apparatuses were built than expected.
"We got a lot better park than we should have if not for the community involvement," Rutiz said.
Community members brought lunches for the workers, and other community members would help with construction.
According to the county, construction and financing of the park has been a collaboration between the county Department of Parks and Recreation, William Sides Construction, Friends of Hana Keiki, local businesses, Grindline Skateparks and the Hana High program.
Ma Ka Hana Ka 'Ike has completed 13 on-campus facilities at the high school, 18 collaborative building projects with other area nonprofits, homes for the elderly, solar hot-water systems, solar photovoltaic systems and more than 40 ramps and disabled-access improvements for community members.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.