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Task force kicks off anti-drug campaign

WAILUKU - The Wailuku Community Action Mobilization Task Force kicked into gear this week with ambitious plans to keep young people away from drugs.  "They were very enthusiastic with lots of creative ideas," said Deb Hallof, an Oahu consultant who facilitated the task force's first community forum on Tuesday night. About 30 people representing nonprofits, businesses, government and Central Maui neighborhoods converged at the Central Maui Boys and Girls Club to talk about keeping Wailuku a safe, healthy and drug-free community.


In its forum invitation to stakeholders, the task force reiterated recent statistics compiled by the Center on the Family. The nonprofit reported that:


         5.7 percent of Maui County's 6th-graders say they've smoked cigarettes in the last month, compared to 3.7 percent in the state.

         12.5 percent of the county's 6th-graders said they've tried alcohol, versus 9 percent statewide.

         2.4 percent of the county's 6th-graders acknowledged they need treatment for alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse or dependence compared with 1.4 percent in the state.


The Wailuku task force is concentrating its efforts in Central Maui, particularly in the neighborhoods of Kahekili Terrace and Hale Makana, the transitional housing units neighboring Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center.


Ikaika Kupono, a 20-year-old resident living in Hale Makana, said he's seen children as young as 12 years old abusing drugs, some even participating in sales.  "Police get called in, but they're gone by the time the police arrive," he said.  Kupono lives in the apartments along with his aunt and uncle, Maile and Michael Tapang. Mrs. Tapang has offered to spend time with the children, and she and her nephew have volunteered to help out with the task force's plans.


Led by Hallof, the task force concluded that children at risk of substance abuse need to be offered a variety of after-school activities, ones that will run from 3 to 6 p.m., 7 to 10 p.m. and even after 10 p.m. Groups would be divided into age levels such as 1 to 5, 6 to 9 and 10 to 13 years old as well as 14 years and older.


On Tuesday night, the task force and forum participants identified the top six activities that would be appealing to these age groups. These include a homework club, a computer club, hula, Hawaiian music, ocean activities and career skills development.

Homework support would feature adult assistance as well as peer to peer networking. The task force hopes to tap into resources from the community including church groups and Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.


Each project offered to the young people would have to mix learning with fun. For example, the group discussing ocean activities talked about the possibility of establishing a 12-week program that covered ocean history and safety as well as opportunities to go surfing and visit the Maui Ocean Center.  "It's learning without knowing you're learning," Hallof said.


Kupono has offered to run a Hawaiian music session for children in the neighborhood. "I think if we keep them busy they'll keep moving forward," he said.  Kupono said he's seen children in his neighborhood watch sports teams practice. "They look like they want to get involved," he said.


Before programs can be established, the task force and its volunteers need to meet several more times to put together the details. Hallof said Tuesday night's meeting was successful because representatives of all areas committed to getting involved.

"It has the potential to be successful," Hallof said, mostly because of the diversity of the volunteers and their skills. Still, Hallof said the task force could use more volunteers. "We need the community to step up," she said.


Among the agencies supporting the task force are the Maui Police Department, the Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. Head Start-Free to Grow project and the Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii.


For more information about the task force and its work, call Thelma Akita-Kealoha at MEO Head Start at 249-2988, ext. 60.


Written by Claudine San Nicolas, April 30, 2004, and reprinted with permission from the Maui News,


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Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.