A group of young stars from the Ka'u Youth in Theatre Group parades in front of the Na'alehu Theatre. (Photo by Joe Demourelle)
Located on the southern tip of the Big Island, the isolated town of Na'alehu, Hawai'i is 100 miles from its nearest neighbor. Since the decline of the region's sugar industry, many residents commute an hour or more to work in other towns, leaving their children with hours of free time after the school day. Concerns about the escalating incidence of graffiti and drug use among local youth during these unsupervised hours prompted many town meetings in the Na'alehu community.
A local theatre has responded, offering students a creative alternative to substance abuse and vandalism. Students involved in the Na'alehu Theatre's after-school programs and summer media arts apprenticeships now have opportunities to learn about traditional Hawaiian and modern digital arts, to gain practical work experience, and to engage in the broader civic life of their community. Student participation in these programs is especially valuable because few local cultural programs are available for children, and most arts venues are some distance away in either Hilo or Kona.
Collaborating to Meet State Goals
Na'alehu's youth programs represent just a few of the successful social service projects sponsored by the Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (HSFCA). Since fiscal year 2005, HSFCA has recruited grant applications from cultural organizations whose programs reach populations eligible for funding from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program. These federal dollars, used primarily to serve at-risk youth and promote job preparation, come to HSFCA by way of the Hawai'i Department of Human Services (DHS). The two state agencies collaborate to encourage arts programming that meets the needs of the state's most vulnerable communities. The result has been a unique blending of arts and culture with health and human services.
Over the past year, this collaboration has funded 36 arts and social service programs. The dollars have been put to work by local arts organizations on four islands and in nearly every county. Together, HSFCA and DHS have strengthened families while fostering cultural engagement and artistic development across the state.
Nalani Parlin uses broadcast-quality equipment on a video shoot for the Na'alehu Theatre Youth Video Apprenticeship Program. (Photo by Joe Demourelle)
"Youth at risk is the kind of issue that transcends all departmental boundaries. If state agencies combine their resources and approach the problem holistically, they can come up with better solutions," says HSFCA Executive Director Ron Yamakawa, who emphasizes that access to the arts is a priority in the agency's strategic plan. The director of DHS, Lillian B. Koller, concurs: "True collaboration, such as the DHS/HSFCA partnership, is the most effective delivery system."
Transforming Young Lives
Both agencies recognize the impact that arts and culture can have on youth. Says Koller, "The Department's partnership with HSFCA is helping us level the playing field for youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances so they can avoid high risk behaviors and make healthy decisions."
The Na'alehu Theatre is focused on the same outcomes. They used HSFCA funds to expand their youth programs, hiring more artists and musicians--one even a Grammy winner--to work with the students. The HSFCA grant also helped to secure additional funding from the Hawaii Island Meth Initiative. As a direct result of the theatre's programs, 100 percent of youth participants have committed to staying drug-free.
The Na'alehu arts programs cultivate a spectrum of skills. Through media apprenticeships, youth learn marketable video documentation and computing skills. They also become involved with issues important to the community. Says Chelle Shand, executive director of Na'alehu Theatre, "If you say, 'let's go to the water meeting,' the students are going to say forget it. But if you say 'let's go video the water meeting,' they're there. They think they're just videoing, but they're hearing it all, they're paying attention." Self discovery is another program outcome. Continues Shand, "The students' involvement has contributed to their personal development. It's built a lot of independence and capability and self-esteem." The theatre also makes a concerted effort to involve students' families and to connect children to Hawaiian cultural traditions.
Similar success stories are occurring across the islands, where the transformative power of the arts is fueling health and self-sufficiency for youth and families. Through this unique collaboration between state agencies, Hawai'i is advancing both its human service and cultural development goals.
Writer: Kelly Barsdate Design: Benson Design Source: Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts
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The work of NASAA and of state arts agencies is supported and strengthened in many ways through partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation
deserves great art.