Empowering the Future
The nonprofit Adult Friends for Youth offers high-risk kids another direction.
When Siutiti Takai’s phone rang around 8 p.m., the teenage girl on the other end of the line was crying. She’d gotten into another fight with her dad, who kicked her out of their home. Without missing a beat, Takai got in her car to pick her up. The two went somewhere to eat, where Takai—a counselor and director of Redirectional Services at the nonprofit Adult Friends for Youth (AFY)—helped her calm down and find a safe place to spend the night.
Since 1986, AFY has been providing high-risk Hawai‘i youth who are engaged in violent behaviors, especially bullying, with positive intervention and redirection to foster safe communities where all keiki can succeed. Although AFY works closely with public schools to curb school violence, many interventions happen off campus, like that night.
“We like to work with kids as whole entities,” says Deborah Spencer-Chun, AFY president and CEO. “Kids weren’t born to do these negative things. Something happened to them along the way, so how do we support them to get back on track?”
Those who are bullied and bullies themselves are at greater risk of dropping out of school. In adulthood, they often experience higher rates of anxiety and depression, and criminal convictions. Another goal of AFY is to get students back into school and reengaged in learning. Each year, AFY’s six counselors work with up to 600 youth on O‘ahu.
Inequity plays a role too, with many young people lacking basic food or shelter, facing racial discrimination, or lacking support at home because of parents working multiple jobs. These stressors can lead to youth taking out their hurt as bullies to others.
“We like to work with kids as whole entities.” – Deborah Spencer-Chun, President & CEO, Adult Friends for Youth
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and Spencer-Chun notes that bullying plays a critical role in the cycle of youth violence. “They started out as the bullied, and can later become the bullies,” she says.
When school officials refer a youth to the nonprofit, AFY counselors work with their peers in weekly group sessions that usually continue through graduation. Counselors meet with them at their schools or out in the community, like the beach or a movie day, and the meetings almost always involve food. “Breaking bread with them is always a good enticement to sit down and have a conversation,” she says.
For teens like the girl Takai helped, the group sessions are a place to unpack the reasons they may be acting out. “She had a really tough home life, and she was hurting,” says Takai. “We got her to share her emotions, go through the pain, and figure out what she really wanted to do with her life.”
Even though her work sometimes means answering a call late at night, Takai says being there for the teens through a difficult time is worth it. The girl she helped eventually graduated, has a better relationship with her father, and is now working and doing well.
Takai adds: “Just having them be successful at the end of the day is really rewarding for me.”
Did you know?
Adult Friends for Youth is one of 194 grantees selected statewide for its work to address some of Hawai‘i’s biggest challenges through Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s CHANGE Framework grants program. Each letter of the CHANGE Framework represents a sector, or six areas, that affects our community and its ability to thrive.
To support the CHANGE Framework or view all 194 grantees, visit hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/CHANGE