PUKALANI - Even though 17-year-old Kanoe Bulusan has seven younger siblings at home, the Kamehameha Schools Maui senior volunteered to be a "Big Sister" in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui's new after-school mentoring program at the Upcountry school's elementary campus.
"I like to be around kids and help them," she said during the program's first day Thursday afternoon at Kamehameha's elementary cafeteria.
Even though she could be studying or hanging out with friends after school, Bulusan said she didn't mind helping out. She usually stays on campus doing activities after school anyway.
Kamehameha Schools Maui senior Kanoe Bulusan laughs while working with Kamehameha Schools Maui 1st-grader Ayanna Moriwake in the school’s elementary cafeteria Thursday. The two were participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui’s After School Mentoring Program, which began Thursday.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
Although mentors were not yet matched up with elementary students, 1st-grader Ayanna Moriwake was enjoying her time with Bulusan and the other mentors.
"They're nice," the 6-year-old Haiku resident said.
A special opening program was held Thursday before the Bigs from Kamehameha's high school campus mingled and did crafts with the Littles from the elementary campus.
Overall, 14 high schoolers from freshmen to senior and 14 elementary school students from kindergarten to 5th grade are participating in the trailblazing program. It is Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Maui's first program that has mentors from the same campus as their younger counterparts, said Kainoa Correa, match specialist with BBBS.
BBBS has two other after-school mentoring sites, which are at the BBBS of Maui office in Wailuku and at Pukalani Elementary School. The Bigs in those programs are from a mixture of high schools in the area, Correa said.
Jay-R Ka'awa, principal of Kamehameha Maui's 11th and 12th grades, said the program reinforces that the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus is one big ohana.
"This is wonderful," she said as she watched the students mingle. "It fosters the concept of family."
Ka'awa said the program will help some elementary school students who have come from displaced families, where they may live with extended family such as grandparents or aunts and uncles.
The program at Kamehameha Schools will run throughout this academic year, with Bigs and Littles meeting once a week for an hour after school. Mentors will help students with their homework and participate in activities with them, which could include arts and crafts, games and outdoor play, Correa said.
The Bigs and Littles were not the only ones beaming Thursday.
Seventeen-year-old Kamehameha Schools Senior Victoria Alakai also was smiling.
During her junior internship, Alakai worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters and started to help staff recruit mentors from her high school.
She put up posters at the school and made fliers for the elementary school to try to get everyone involved. Her involvement and work with the new program also were part of her senior project.
"It feels good," she said as she watched her classmates interact with the youngsters. "I have been waiting for this day since last year."
Alakai, who will probably major in education in college, said there are benefits to being both a Big and a Little.
"For the Bigs, it's good for college applications," she said of the extra-curricular activity.
As for the elementary students, she said having mentors helps the youngsters become more social. She noticed some young ones were quiet Thursday as mentors tried to interact with them.
Correa was proud of Alakai.
"She did my job basically," Correa said with a laugh. "She recruited all the high school Bigs."
There is no cost to participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters after-school mentoring programs, officials said.
The organization is supported by grants, including those from Maui County and Maui United Way, seeks private contributions and fundraises, said JD Wyatt, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui.
Wyatt, who also attended the program, said this program "really helps solidify new relationships."
He was especially proud of the high school students' efforts.
"They are choosing to volunteer their time and make a difference and make an impact on children's lives," he added.
For 16-year-old junior Ryan Foree of Pukalani, he said the pleasure was all his, noting that through his years in theater, he was mentored by people he will never forget.
"I wanted to do that with someone else. I'm glad Big Brothers Big Sisters gave me the opportunity to do so," he said.
For more information on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui programs see www.bbbshawaii.org or call 242-9754.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.