With newspapers filled with stories about new Common Core standards, Race to the Top funds and teacher evaluations, we often get lost in the mission we all have as parents and educators: to raise quality human beings.
Aaron Kamau (center) grew up in Kalihi and knows the risks youth face. In response he created KAMP, which promotes teamwork while giving kids confidence in their own abilities. Teachers say the results are amazing.
Row 1 Michele Kamau, Paula Telles, Gabby Maualaivao, Kauanani Mailou, Aaron Kamau, Hailey Faleunga, Grichelle Domingo Row 2 Stephanie Aiona, Aaron Kamau, Jr., George Kamau, Elroy Chong, Eddie Hayashi, Danny Kaleikini, Brittany Kamau, Joseph Vierra, Jr., Sharon Souza, Bert Carter, Mary Kamau Row 3 Ashley Kamau, David Pila, Glenn Goya, Linda Wong, Tyler Tokioka, Randall Okimoto, Shayna-lyn Mailou-Miller, Ben Kamau | Nathalie Walker photo firstname.lastname@example.org
Kauanani Mailou gets a boost through the Spider Web from Hailey Faleunga, Daniel Mailou, Cadance Christian and Farao Maileoi. | Nathalie Walker photo email@example.com
All the books, technology and classroom time in the world do not ensure that happens; it takes us caring about kids and showing them the way. But what about the kids in tough situations not of their own making, the ones who have no one to turn to but our baser elements and easier roads?
These are the ones at the heart of the founding of KAMP (Kids At Risk Mentoring Program) Hawaii.
Started in the living room of Aaron and Michele Kamau, they wanted to find a way to help at-risk kids and arm them with the power of confidence and the ability to work with others.
Drawing from his two decades of experience working with Boy Scouts of America, Kamau formed an outdoor activity experience that shapes the interior of their minds and hearts.
A born-and-raised Kalihi boy, Kamau grew up surrounded by hard situations and broken families, but was raised by his father not to be scared of it, but acknowledge and help those individuals.
“My dad George Kamau is my greatest supporter as a person who has helped me form a solid base for life,” says Kamau, who also works as a track and football coach at Farrington High. “My upbringing has a huge influence on how I operate KAMP Hawaii today. He would encourage me to take care of the people who reach out to me and to never take anything for granted. Never run from adversity, just face it head on and resolve it.”
Every summer KAMP runs day camps at different parks around the island from Kahuku to Waimanalo to Waianae. The camps are staffed by 30 youth mentors hired straight out of Farrington.
“Total buy-in from the kids, right out of the projects, but they are good students and they are put into the fire right away,” says Kamau. “They are working with 45 kids for 45 minutes and they have to incorporate everything, drive the nail in and keep it fun.”
The camps generally have six activity areas staffed by these fresh graduates, who bring lessons about bullying, drugs and gangs, and correlate them with the games and challenges they have, such as Human Ladder and Kalo Bridge Crossing. They are reaching almost 9,000 kids a year currently, and with more funding — they recently received a grant from NFL Foundation in conjunction with the 2014 Pro Bowl — hope to raise that number each year.
These summers also serve as a training ground for these graduates to give them life skills and confidence in handling groups of people who are invaluable to any of us, but especially to these teens either entering the work force for the first time or preparing for the grind of college.
Ashton Evangelista leaps after crossing the Human Ladder held by Louis Matagi (left) and Aaron Kamau | Nathalie Walker photo firstname.lastname@example.org
Farao Maileoi assists Shayna-lyn Mailou-Miller across the bridge | Nathalie Walker photo email@example.com
Even though his roots are in the rougher edges of our Island home, Kamau sees needs in all our schools.
“To us, every kid is at-risk,” he says. “After years of working with the DOE, now they call us and we go there and provide once-a-week programs where we can.”
Their programs are currently serving 66 schools on Oahu, either a 13 or 27-week course that is run during the school day and brings those same messages and physical challenges to younger students. These have become some of the kids’ favorite part of the week and have helped reach those who sometimes struggle with the traditional school environment.
“I have seen students who have behavioral problems in the classroom, but when KAMP comes in every week, they are the ones who shine because they have a chance to get up and move around and be involved in more activities,” says Renee Hirano, fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary.
Sometimes it is something as simple as building “hobo stoves” and cooking their own bacon and egg sandwich that enables the kids to see that they are empowered and can accomplish goals.
The five main components they emphasize are team building, leadership, decision-making, communication and cooperation, many of which are hard to conceptualize in the rush of a school day.
“They have an activity, talk about the activity and reflect on it,” says Sharon Souza, a special education teacher in Aina Haina who has been involved with KAMP since its founding in 2005.
“Kids around 9 and 10, especially competitive boys, are not good at teamwork. They all want to be the leaders, and they want everyone to do what they want to do. They learned that it is a life skill being able to work with other people cooperatively on a team. They were used to a team with coaches that tell you what to do, then you go do it. In this, they have a problem, they have to figure it out and work together on a solution.”
She has watched firsthand as the students who have participated in KAMP have excelled when it comes to problem solving, and it has made her students much more well-rounded, even students you would not ordinarily worry about.
“We have kids who are very smart. They can do all this stuff on their own, but they can’t work in groups,” says Souza. “They do real well all through school and then they get out, and when they get into the world they can’t function because they are smart but they can’t work with other people.”
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Learning to work with other people started from the home as the Kamau children have found they love to help Dad in his work.
“I love to empower our youths to facilitate our life mentoring program, and what better place than at home with my children?,” says Kamau. “My children have learned to mentor at-risk youths, mentor our youth staff, help with our special event, be responsible for our program equipment. They are always the first ones to arrive for our program and special events and the last ones to leave.”
The program’s physical component also has had a lasting impact, according to principal Shannon Goo of Lincoln Elementary.
“Obesity and healthy living has been a challenge for many students,” says Goo, who had 200 students a week participate. “This program has helped us to expose students to an active lifestyle in a fun way. Interacting with each other in a fun and active way is impactful, yet the mentoring that takes place has a lasting effect on student behavior.”
Their “Pride and Victory” enrichment days have started for the summer, with a new batch of mentors heading all over the Island with the hopes of impacting more than 5,000 kids this summer.
All the programs are free. Funds are raised to help offset the cost of the programs by Aloha United Way, which recently approved KAMP as a Partner Agency; Island Insurance Foundation and the aforementioned NFL Foundation.
This backing, though still needing more, has allowed them to begin new programs such as Anti-Bullying Lunchtime.
In it they use positive activities for students to help discourage fighting and eliminate negative activities among students during their mealtime.
They use a series of COPE courses (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) to help bring these messages home, and it is seeing the effects of this message on kids that tells Kamau he made the right decision when he left the Scouts.
“It was about getting to work with flesh and blood, and not having to live up to Mainland standards,” says Kamau, who has crafted his system to appeal directly to local kids. “We don’t have to go reach 20,000 kids. It’s about the heart, the passion for kids.”