Police have ‘good’ visit at youth center

Officers work to grow relationships with S. Maui keiki

Police school resource officer Rodney Haia (second from right) cautions youths against posting too much personal information on social media, as he and fellow school resource officers Stuart Farberow (from left), Brandon Phillips and Jonathan Honda deliver new footballs and basketballs at the Kihei Youth Center on Thursday. The officers visited with students as part of the Sports For Kids program organized by police school resource officers. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

KIHEI — At first, some youths weren’t sure what to make of the arrival of four uniformed police officers Thursday morning at the Kihei Youth Center.

“A lot of the kids were asking what we were doing there, if we were looking for someone,” said officer Brandon Phillips. “A few of the kids recognized some of us because of our jobs.”

Phillips and other school resource officers, who usually work on campus at public intermediate and high schools, took advantage of the start of summer break to visit with dozens of kids at the youth center.

“We try and encourage them to stay out of trouble during the summer and be safe,” said Phillips, school resource officer at Iao Intermediate School in Wailuku, who helped organize the visit. “The No. 1 thing we want to do by going out and spending time with them is to let them know how important they are, not only to their families but to the community. They’re important to us.”

After joining in basketball and dodgeball games with the youths, the officers donated five basketballs and five footballs that they paid for themselves at Walmart the day before.

A boy tries to block a pass by school resource officer Jonathan Honda during a basketball game at the Kihei Youth Center on Thursday. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

“We’re always in need because those come and go. That was a perfect gift,” said Lehua Huddleston-Hafoka, executive director of the Kihei Youth Center. “I know the kids were all thrilled.”

The visit was part of the Sports For Kids program run by the school resource officers during school breaks.

“The idea is to bridge that gap between police and kids,” Phillips said. “That’s why we’re in full uniform. When they come in contact with officers, they’ll feel more comfortable.

“That way they don’t have to be afraid of the police. They can know they can come to the police for help.”

In the past, officers have taken the Sports For Kids program to areas including Hale Makana O Waiale and Kahekili Terrace affordable housing projects in Wailuku and Summer PALS programs in Central Maui. “This year we wanted to expand,” Phillips said.

School resource officer Rodney Haia lines up for a dodgeball game with youths on the basketball court at the Kihei Youth Center on Thursday. Haia, officer Jonathan Honda (in background) and officers Brandon Phillips and Stuart Farberow joined dozens of youths for the game on one of the first days of the summer break. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

Joining Phillips in Kihei were Maui High school resource officer Jonathan Honda, Lahainaluna school resource officer Stuart Farberow and officer Rodney Haia, who will be school resource officer at King Kekaulike High School.

Haia, who had been working as a patrol officer in Kahului, said he wanted “to make a difference with the keiki.”

By spending time with the students, Haia said he hopes to “have that connection with them where they can come to us for help instead of being afraid.”

After the officers played card games and basketball with a few students, most of the approximately 50 youths at the center lined up with the officers for a dodgeball game on the basketball court outside the youth center.

Huddleston-Hafoka said the center has had a good relationship with police, who were part of a mentoring program there a few years ago.

“It’s been a really awesome relationship,” she said. “Today wasn’t a big surprise. But it was a surprise in terms of the kindness.”

The day before, she said she had talked to one boy about spending less time on his game device and doing more outdoor activities. Huddleston-Hafoka said she was happy to see the youth on the basketball court with the officers.

“How awesome it is for the kids to interact with the officers,” she said. “They’re not just there for law enforcement. They’re making sure the kids are happy and having fun. They want to contribute.

“It helps bridge the gap of the unknown, possible fears kids may have. It makes our kids feel more comfortable if they want to talk to them. They can approach the officers.”

Huddleston-Hafoka said she learned about what school resource officers do while her children attended Lahainaluna, where Farberow was school resource officer.

“He was amazing,” she said. “I know firsthand what an important role they play in the school, in the community.”

The visit last week continued efforts started by Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu when he was police captain in Kihei to forge a partnership with the community, Huddleston-Hafoka said.

“We’re just really thankful for that,” she said. “We hope our kids will be aspiring to be part of law enforcement.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.