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