Today’s blog comes from Katie Connor, the director of STN’s Ulu Pono program. To see more photos and read more about her life working with the kids of Wahiawa, visit her blog.
Do you remember your first piano recital or football game? The weeks of practice and the butterflies in your stomach? Do you remember looking up into the bleachers or squinting from the bright stage into the dark crowd? And there they were: the people who had pushed (maybe slightly forced) you to be there. They looked at you with love and pride, trying to mask their own anxiety for you. They belonged to you; they were your parents.
I remember many moments like this growing up and I long for those moments now when I’m living thousands of miles away. But the kids I work with don’t ever get moments like that. Maybe mom and dad are too busy, or gone completely, or just uninterested. Many of the kids have never been to a soccer practice or a ballet class. The street is where they spend their afternoons. The street and the Ulu Pono Kids Program. They may never hear their parents tell them how proud they were or that it was okay that they dropped the final pass. Often times it just isn’t a part of their culture. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t tell them we are proud of them! So this weekend, that is exactly what we did!
The Ohai Family Festival was a dream that we had cultivated for over a year before it came to pass. Many hours of dreaming, hoping, wishing and planning came to life in a beautiful afternoon. For four hours last Saturda,y everything was about the kids. The games, the prizes, the music, the shave ice. All because we were proud of them and we loved them.
Half way through the afternoon, we awarded each child from the program a “Character Award” they were called up on stage in front of everyone and amazingly there were even some parents in the crowd. They got a hug, a certificate, encouragement and an affirmation by different staff members. Most of them got really shy about it, red cheeked and squirming they got on stage and while they acted like they wanted to run off the stage, I know them better than that. They love, love. Don’t we all?
It’s hard to gauge success when working with kids. How do you measure “getting into less trouble” or “headed on a better path”? Three days after the festival, I went to pick up a 5 year old boy from his home. I know his parents well and his mom had come to the festival. I walked through the living room that consists of several mattresses and barely enough room to walk and picked up his baby sister out of the crib. That’s when I spotted it. His purple certificate pinned amongst the mess up on the wall. My heart swelled with pride and I choked up as the reality that his parents had taken the time to make sure his award was hung really sunk in. That is the kind of “success” I want to see. The kind that transforms an entire family from the inside out. -KC
Exactly a month ago, we told you about STN Staffer Brendon Johnson and his relief trip to the Philippines. Brendon, who was raised in the Philippines, embarked on December 8th on a four month trip to help those in the country he called home. Most media has quieted down regarding what was called the biggest storm in history. Today on the blog, we have a few stories straight from Brendon that are both reports of brighter days for the Filipinos, and reminders of the hard realities they’re still facing. -EJ
“Since we arrived in the town of Hernani on the coast of Eastern Samar, a pastor named Sam has been taking us around the town to introduce us to the locals here. Walking among all the washed out concrete houses and freshly assembled tents, it is very evident to see the effects the storm surge had on this place. Yet, all the people we meet are smiling, upbeat, and carrying on with the day’s chores or activities. It is really amazing to see how the people here make do with what they have, regardless of what has been evidently been taken away from them.
One local we met is Fredrick, a young married man and father to a six-month old. Fredrick is a part-time fisherman who is now devoting most of his time to collecting scrap metal left scattered around what used to be his house. He and his family now have a shanty style shelter setup next to a relief tent. They only use the tent during the night, since it is too hot under the heat of daylight. Fredrick and his family have a lot to be thankful for in spite of their current living conditions. Fredrick explained to us that during the peak intensity of the storm, he and his family took shelter in the school across the street from their house. Moments later, a 30 foot storm surge came up the beach and swept their house away. As the waves made their way to the somewhat protected concrete school rooms, Fredrick and the other townspeople were caught swirling around in the turbulent water. With quick thinking, Fredrick then fled with his family across a courtyard to a more protected church, where they waited out the rest of the storm. Fredrick said that not everyone was so lucky, since he knows of at least one baby that died during the whole devastating ordeal.
For this family, there is a lot to think about with such a traumatizing experience still fresh in their minds. Even when the wind picks up from time to time here, Fredrick says that he still gets nervous and can have trouble sleeping.But Fredrick and his wife say that they are blessed just to be together and that they can still make a living. The Global Crisis Response Team I’m working with was able to make a small provision by lending Fredrick some tools to help his recycling work. Fredrick used these to make quick work on some buried metal. Life goes on for this special family, and they know that they are not alone in this relief effort.”
“Below is a photo of from the town of Santa Fe. Santa Fe’s school (and basically all the other schools on the island) was heavily damaged. While repairs are being done by foreign aid, you can see the tents where classes are being held. This really good to see, as families return to a somewhat normal routine of daily life. ”
Today’s blog is from our amazing Ulu Pono Kids Director, Katie Connor. This woman has an amazing (and patient!) heart for the kids on our street – and in my opinion, one of the toughest jobs at STN! She is constantly striving to make the program the best it can be and provide the children with every opportunity possible. However, there is one thing she cannot do – stop the kids from growing up! In today’s guest blog, she explains her plans and hopes for the Ulu Pono Kids program as its members become too old to be called “kids.”
“Ulu Pono Teens” – to this day, the name of this 4 month old program cracks me up. But let me set the stage before I explain why it makes me chuckle so much. The Ulu Pono Kids Program was created four years ago when the staff at Surﬁng The Nations saw a great need to hold an after-school program for the elementary age kids in the local area. The program was an immediate hit and quickly became a home away from home for them.
However, as many of those kids are now in middle school and high school, their interests have changed and most of their younger siblings attend the program. This age gap has caused many of them to drop out as it is hard to engage a 5 year old and 13 year old in the same lesson and social setting. We came to the realization that we needed to go back to the drawing board and create a program that would give the teens a safe place to learn and hang out while appealing to their age group.
Hence, Ulu Pono Teens was created. But at ﬁrst the program was nameless. As a staff, we tried to come up with a name that might appeal to teenagers – Wahiawa Gangstas, Ohai Ballers etc… We decided that at our ﬁrst meeting we would present the names to the kids, let them make their own suggestions, and then cast a vote!
Their favorite was “Ulu Pono Teens,” a name they created and they have shamelessly owned ever since (despite the fact that many are still 11 and 12 years old!). It is a simple name, but it describes perfectly where they have come from, who they are now and even who they are becoming. Although, it still makes me laugh that they didn’t like any of the elaborate names we had created!
To be in Ulu Pono Teens you must be in sixth grade or older, but our oldest kids are only 14 at the moment. Because of their age we have been able to do things that some of the younger kids may not yet be able to do, such as snorkeling, hiking and trips to the museum. Our heart is to show these kids that there is “life” and a future for them beyond their street and neighborhood; that they have the opportunity to follow their passions if they work hard. We also teach them basic leadership principles through simple things like neighborhood clean-ups to help them understand the importance of being upright citizens and members of their community.
We are so proud of these kids and are excited to see them continue to grow and develop into young adults over the next few years. We know that these kids have the power to inﬂuence the future of this community and we are honored to be a part of the continued change happening in Wahiawa, Hawaii.
To keep up with Katie’s personal adventures as the Ulu Pono Kids Director, follow her blog at adventurewahiawa.wordpress.com!
On My Bookmarks Bar:
Charis Bauer Ifland, Business Director
This week, we are sharing Charis Ifland’s favorite bookmarked websites. As a wife, business director and world traveler, this girl knows which websites are the best for helping her keep the many moving parts of her life in order! Take note, the next few websites you may want to remember!
1. Mint.com is a great tool to organize and manage your finances! It brings your financial information to one place, you can create a budget, and set goals to plan for the future. It helps save and enjoy the important things in life!
Today, we are giving you a look at the bookmarks bar of staff member Jeremy Seick. Jeremy is a proud native of the PNW, specifically representing Oregon. At STN, he is the Outreach Director and heads up the Feeding The Hungry program, bringing food and encouragement to thousands of people each week. In between long days of outreach, these are some of his favorite sites to keep up with. -EJ
1.) One of my top bookmarks is Deer Lodge. Not only because it is run by a close buddy of mine, Matt Jones, but also because he has a keen ear for all that is rad and authentic in the current music scene. The site includes music, reviews and interviews and even some exclusive video content. If you love music it needs to be a go to. Pitchfork is another site I frequent for updates and happenings on relevant music.
2.) Another top bookmark is The Zombie Apocalypse. Let’s face it, we are far overdue for a Zombie Apocalypse. Be responsible about this. If you don’t how to live off the grid or the proper way to terminate a zombie, you aren’t going to last a minute out there. Don’t be ‘that guy’. Study up and survive out there.
3.) Finally, I love checking out Poler Stuff. For the adventurer in you, Poler has all the gear you could ever need for your epic weekend in the wild. They also have a killer blog that tracks their team’s adventures to some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth (and to top it all off, they are based out of the Northwest)!
Today’s blog post is from our favorite Sheila, Ame Schadel. Ame came this spring from Australia to take part in our Service Team program. Service Team is a program where individuals assist with practical hands-on needs of STN such as painting, construction or service in the local community with our ongoing outreaches. The schedule and jobs are based off of the needs at STN has at the current time. It is a challenge, but the reward of living and growing in the community is unique and gratifying. Service team members must commit a minimum of one month and can stay as long as three months. Take a look at what Ame had to say about her experience:
‘I love those times in life when a really amazing opportunity presents itself and you choose to step out of your comfort zone. There’s a feeling of nervousness and excitement as you start making your plans. But the best part is, after you’ve made that step and you realize that the decision turned out to be the best one you could have made. This is exactly what happened to me when I had the opportunity to be part of the service team at Surfing the Nations.
I flew from Australia to Hawaii not knowing what to expect, nervous about making this new place home for the next month. Nervousness aside, I also had a feeling that this would be the start of an amazing adventure. I was ready for a new challenge in life, ready to meet new friends and ready to have a ton of fun while doing it.
Being part of the Service Team gave me the chance to see firsthand how Surfing the Nations is making a difference in the community and around the world. Not only was I able to help people within the organization, I was also able to help with weekly community events like Feeding the Hungry and the Ulu Pono kids program. Through these programs, my eyes were opened to the need that is in the world today. The need for primary things like food and shelter and also the need for comfort and encouragement. Seeing people line up for food and being able to look them in the eyes, give them food and encourage them was truly a highlight for me.
Another part of Service Team that made my time so enjoyable was all the people that served alongside me. It was great to be working on a project or helping build something with people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures. We worked together, ate together and laughed together. The community of people at STN made me not only feel like I was part of the organization, but like I belonged to a family that was all working to make a difference.
Service Team was the best decision I could have made. It was an incredible way to see Hawaii, meet new people and ultimately make a lasting difference in a community, I loved it so much, I decided to extend my stay.
I would highly recommend taking this adventure and making it your own.’ – AS