Ski programs molding better lives for those living in Salt Lake City’s west-side communities

Story by MARTIN KUPRIANOWICZ

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Children living on the west side of Salt Lake City enjoying the snow and cross-country skiing. Photo by Peter Vordenberg

It’s Saturday. The sun is shining and snow is on the ground. Parents are dropping their children off at Mountainview Elementary in Salt Lake City and the kids are already exploding with excitement — they are going on a field trip. Juan Gilberto Rejón — or “Coach Juan,” as those in west-side communities refer to him — is patiently waiting outside of the school to take roughly 50 elementary students to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to view a population of wild eagles on this day.

Coach Juan is the founder, executive director, and coach for the Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families, which is a program that aims to create pathways to college for the underserved by getting students involved in the outdoors. Coach Juan started this program because he believes the experiences earned in the outdoors are valuable ones that can set children up to better handle adversity throughout their lives.

On weekends throughout the school year, Coach Juan often takes students on excursions to participate in a wide variety of outdoor activities, from bird watching to skiing. Recently, cross-country skiing has been a big emphasis of the program.

“It’s a blessing for our underserved and our underprivileged because they wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. It’s too expensive,” Coach Juan said. “For a family of five or six to go skiing at $200 a pop, that’s already over $1,000 being spent for just a day of skiing. There’s just no way these families living in poverty could afford that.”

His ski program is partnered with the Utah Nordic Alliance that takes students cross-country skiing on weekends in the winter. Another partner is She Jumps, an organization that motivates women and girls of all backgrounds to step out of their comfort zone in a fun, non-threatening, inclusive environment to learn outdoor skills.

Coach Juan’s program has been operating for three years, but his inspiration to get students involved with the outdoors goes back almost two decades to the birth of his son.

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Coach Juan pictured outside of Mountainview Elementary, the meeting place for students going to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Photo by Martin Kuprianowicz

“When I first moved into a 300-bedroom apartment complex here (on the west side) there were a lot of things happening that were not safe for kids. We had a lot of robberies, carjackings, prostitution, drugs, alcohol, so as a community advocate I had to do something for my child,” Coach Juan said.

What began as a mission to improve the quality of life for his child then translated as improving the lives of everyone in his community, especially vulnerable children on the west side of Salt Lake City. Coach Juan started a community soccer program that would eventually grow into a multifaceted, multi-partnered community outdoor program for youth.

The program focuses on helping students to pursue higher education. Coach Juan’s son went through it. Now, his grandchildren are enrolled. Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families has since grown and is now partnered with the Utah Nordic Alliance, headed by former two-time Olympic ski racer Peter Vordenberg.

Vordenberg coaches ski racers who have won gold medals in the Winter Olympics and World Cup championships. In addition, he helps Coach Juan organize the single-day cross-country ski trips by providing students with everything they need to go skiing.

But he didn’t always plan to be a community advocate. It all started by chance one day when he was invited by a friend to tag along with the kids on one of these ski programs.

“I was out there hanging out with all the kids and with Coach Juan and I was like, ‘Oh man, I got to be more involved, not just take pictures but I got to see what I can do to help out.’ So, I joined the board,” Vordenberg said.

Vordenberg has been on the Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families board for three years. He says that his favorite thing about being involved with the program is watching the kids develop a love for skiing and the outdoors. “It really builds their confidence and helps them dream bigger,” Vordenberg said.

Another opportunity for the west-side youth is the Parks and Recreation program that is affiliated with world-class ski areas Brighton and Snowbird. The Northwest Recreation Center is one of many centers throughout the Salt Lake Valley  that shuttle elementary and middle school students to those ski areas and provide them with gear, lift passes, and instructor training.

Snowbird Mountain School Director Maggie Loring has run this program on Fridays in the winter for 18 seasons. She said programmatic goals include developing new skiers and riders who may be interested in one day working as staff at the resorts, and providing a community service to children who may not otherwise get the opportunity to enjoy winter sports.

“One anecdote I can share is that the current manager of our programs was initially in our 4th-grade program, became a junior instructor, and kept going. It’s really an opportunity for resorts to capture both new guests and new staff,” Loring said in an email interview.

However, the impact of these programs is also a lot simpler than getting kids involved with the outdoors and setting them up for potential life paths in the ski industry.

“One of my favorite things about this program is the opportunity to see the kids pour out of the buses so excited to get onto the mountain,” Loring said. “Many of them may not be able to sleep the night before because of how excited they are for this new adventure. I remember from my own childhood how excited I was to get out of school to go skiing!”

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It’s nothing but smiles when the kids get off the bus and go skiing. Photo by Peter Vordenberg

Ngahauoma radio show supports its community

Story and slideshow by JANICE ARCALAS

“We are more than tattoos and music. We’re more than violence. We’re more than health problems. We are valid and we’re American, just like everyone else,” said Havier Hafoka, cohost of the radio show “Ngahauoma.”

“Ngahauoma” is a radio show that goes on air every Sunday from 10 to 11 p.m. It is run by the National Tongan-American Society, at the KRCL radio station located at 1971 W. North Temple. “Ngahauoma” is under the “Talakoula” radio show. The radio show covers Polynesian events, people, programs and musical artists.

Even though the “Talakoula” radio show has been running for over 20 years, “Ngahauoma” is a fairly new radio show. It is currently in its third month. Hafoka doesn’t remember the exact number of listeners, but said he was told the average number is over 1,000 people. White also said that the show has been receiving high ratings.

The show works with various musical Polynesian artists. “Music is inherent in the Polynesian culture,” Hafoka said. “Most Polynesians are connected with music.”

The “Ngahauoma” is not just a Polynesian music radio show. It is all about helping its Pacific Islander community.

One of the program’s goals is to get more Pacific Islanders to register to vote. Its target is the millennial generation. There has been a decrease in the Pacific Islanders who are registered to vote, said Penina White, cohost of “Ngahauoma” and NTAS civic engagement director. This is because the millennial generation is not registering to vote.

“If more Pacific Islanders were to register to vote, they would have a say in what goes on in their community,” White said.

Another goal that the radio show is trying to reach is getting Pacific Islanders to become U.S. citizens. “There are Pacific Islanders that are green card holders,” White said, “but are not sure how to file citizenship.”

Citizenship will enable them to get specific benefits, White said. “It will also give them a seat at the table in the government office. We want to be able to have a say on what happens in our community.”

Maryan Logisiola Savini works at KRCL, Havier Hafoka works with youth corrections and is a musician and Penina White is the civic engagement director for the NTAS. “We all bring different aspects to the show but they work well as a team to host the show together,” White said. The hosts of the radio show not only highlight the good, but also talk about sensitive topics in their community.

The show hosts want to make sure that they are reaching their target audience, even if that means one person.

“Usually issues that happen don’t leave the home,” White said. “There are other avenues outside the home, other resources and help.”

“Ngahauoma” pushes for education in the Pacific Islander community. “Most are expected to work and help provide for their families after they graduate from high school,” White said. “We found that by getting an education, it helps the Pacific Islander community.”

The next segment happening in May on the radio show is suicide. “The suicide rate in our high school students is at the highest it’s ever been,” White said. “It is a sensitive topic but an issue we have to touch up on.”

The show’s main message not only is to touch the community but to anyone who listens. Anyone in northern Utah has access to the “Ngahauoma” radio show. The radio show also has listeners from California and people who are incarcerated are able to listen.

One of the next steps of the “Ngahauoma” is to get a two-hour time slot. The hosts want to be able to have time to talk about sensitive topics. “The one hour goes by so fast,” White said.

“Ngahauoma” is a radio show all about focusing on its community. “The Pacific Islander community is family orientated and all about giving back to the community,” White said. “The show recognizes that.”

Hafoka enjoys connecting with listeners. “My favorite part about the radio show is being able to have an outlet to help bring awareness and to talk about what’s going on with the community,” Hafoka said. “Our show helps more than just Polynesians. We are a community radio. We help everyone in the community.”

 

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Redefining service in a spirit of kindness and empowerment

Story and slideshow by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders (PI) believe that what is best for the village is best for the individual. This value system instills a spirit of empathy, generosity and kindness. This is particularly evident in the types of service we see from local members of the PI community. These individuals redefine service through the work that they do as a way of life.

Puna Fatanitavake is a former teacher at Mana Academy Charter School, where she enjoyed teaching second graders. Previously she taught at Liahona High School in Tonga. Fatanitavake moved to Utah in 2015 with two young children and a third on the way to be closer to her mother and pursue more education.

Because of her service to her students, religion and family, Fatanitavake feels that her life is blessed. “Serving helps me be the strong woman I am right now. The love I had for these kids and the good I could do for them, I didn’t expect anything in return because I knew that God would bless me,” she said.

Fatanitavake also explained how every decision she has ever made was for others — the people in her Tongan village, her children, her mother, her former students and current community. She participates in local service through her religion which allows her to serve while also educating and empowering children on how they can be successful and follow their dreams like she is currently doing by attending LDS Business College.

Ulysses Tongaonevai has also dedicated his career to serving youth in his community. Tongaonevai is a conduct hearing officer for The Office of the Dean of Students at the University of Utah where he also instructs courses for PI students as an adjunct professor. Before working at the university, Tongaonevai worked for local government with youth from at-risk homes.

“I’m here to advocate for these individuals or groups,” he explained. “I’ve done things in the community from cultural awareness, higher ed awareness, I’ve created programs to help young people graduate high school and connect with resources.”

Tongaonevai grew up in the inland empire of Southern California in a single-parent household and did not always know where to turn for help. “Because of where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced, I feel like I need to give back because I’ve been given much,” he said.

One of these programs that Tongaonevai created with his wife, Kalo, is called Teine Malohi, a competitive fast pitch softball program for PI girls. They chose this name because “Teine” is Samoan for “girl” and “Malohi” is Tongan for “strong.”

This girl power program was founded in 2016 and has been sponsored by Royal Outreach, West High School Softball, Uplift Foundation Inc. and the University of Utah Neighborhood Partners. They practice and hold events for the teams at The Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City.

Teine Malohi softball has participants from all over the Salt Lake Valley, including: West Valley, Glendale, Poplar Grove, Rose Park, Herriman, West Jordan, South Jordan, Murray, Taylorsville, Salt Lake City, Bountiful, North Salt Lake and Centerville. There are 53 girls total who participate in three separate age-grouped teams ranging from age 8-14.

Teine Malohi provides an opportunity to be physically active while interacting with the community. It also focuses on affordability (scholarships and equipment), player development, academics, culture, empowerment, student-athlete experiences and college prep.

“We also include a community aspect, not only just within the Pacific islander community, but we encourage the players to do some type of voluntary service in the neighborhoods that they live in, and for them to also connect to their legislative representatives,” Tongaonevai said.

With the goal of empowering young women, the Tongaonevais have been able to create this thriving program that teaches young women from all over the Salt Lake Valley how they can serve their communities. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have the understanding of those resources or how to look for them, I didn’t know they existed,” Tongaonevai recalled. As a result, he has spent his entire adulthood advocating for youth and connecting them to resources.

The PI view is that we are all connected and so it’s important that everyone helps each other to find happiness and success. Community activist Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou co-founded an organization called Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR). “All of our goals encompass helping, educating and empowering,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. PIK2AR focuses on economics, cultural preservation and domestic violence.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou seeks to provide services for people of PI background because of her childhood, where she felt disconnected from her roots. By providing knowledge, connection and empowerment to the community, Feltch-Malohifo’ou is able to help orchestrate support groups, a business alliance and cultural community events.

Fatanitavake, Tongaonevai and Feltch-Malohifo’ou each described service as part of everyday life. They don’t separate service into a task to accomplish, or some way to balance the scales. Service is organic, it is a way of life.

These Utahn Pacific Islander leaders each seek not only to serve, but to empower others. Empowering others teaches them to take control of their lives, enabling them to be their best selves. This is the Pacific Island way, believing that we are all in this journey together and the success of one, is the success of all.

 

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Nā HALE: A home for Pacific Islander well-being

Story and slideshow by MARISSA SITTLER

In Hawaiian, nā hale means “the houses,” a word that embodies the sense of traditional Hawaiian community. This word is the driving force behind the newly formed umbrella organization for Pacific Islander wellness and resources. HALE is an acronym for Health, Advocacy, Leadership and Education.

Some of the strongest leaders of Utah’s Pacific Islander community came together to hatch the idea of Nā HALE. The idea was devised by members of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, the University of Utah Pacific Islander Studies Initiative, Margarita Satini from Utah Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Coalition and Charlene Lui from Hui Hawai’i O Utah Hawaiian Civic Club.

The first formal meeting took place in January 2016. During that meeting, an exploratory committee was formed “to research different collaboration models, bylaws and articles of incorporation, and membership structures of existing organizations in other states,” said Jake Fitisemanu Jr. in an email interview. He is the acting chair of the steering committee that is tasked with preparing Nā HALE to become a more formal entity. He is also the council member for District 4 in West Valley City, Utah. 

In April 2016, the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition unanimously supported the proposal to create a statewide umbrella group. It was one month later that the name Nā HALE was chosen.

Pacific Islanders have a strong sense of family and community, so it is only natural that many of the already formed Pacific Islander resource groups are some of the main collaborators for this project. In addition to the founding organizations, Fitisemanu said local groups including Queen Center, National Tongan American Society, Beyond Culture, Utah Pacific Islander Behavioral Health Association, Samoana Integrated Language Initiative, Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition, Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resource and PEAU Artists Collective are all main members of Nā HALE.

Charlene Lui, director of educational equity for Granite School Districts, is native Hawaiian and has lived in Utah since the 1970s. She and her husband, who is Tongan, have been very involved in the Pacific Islander community in Utah through various groups, such as Hui Hawaiʻi O Utah and the National Tongan American Society.

Lui said in a phone interview that collectively, they have always wanted to strengthen the Pacific Islander community by organizing a group somehow. She sees Nā HALE as “trying to bring everybody together under one umbrella and to strengthen and maximize what every group group does, to collectively share our resources.”

Dr. Kalani Raphael, who is a kidney, electrolytes and high blood pressure specialist at the University of Utah School of Medicine and one of the key members of Nā HALE’s formation, said in a phone interview that the importance of Nā HALE “boils down to recognizing that there’s a lot of disparities in health, economics and incarceration in the Pacific Islander community.” He adds, “We can and should be doing better.”

Fitisemanu sees Nā HALE as a way to strengthen each individual organization’s capacity and reach. “This kind of network can facilitate resource pooling as well as information sharing; for example, a program that has been successful in the Samoan community might be more readily adopted as a best practice among the Tongan community. It also creates opportunity for more impactful civic engagement, when communities can band together and promote policies that are in the best interest of underrepresented communities,” he said.

While Nā HALE is a solidified concept, it is still just that — a concept. The individuals who are working on this project also have full-time careers, which can make it difficult to dedicate extra time to Nā HALE’s formal creation. Despite this, the umbrella organization already has a strong presence in the Pacific Islander community. It was featured as a community-based initiative during the American Public Health Association conference in October 2016 in Denver and was introduced to national partners across the United States and the Pacific territories in May 2017 during a webinar hosted by the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander National Network in Los Angeles.

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Strong spirited Islanders strive for freedom in the “land of the free”

Story and photos by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders who leave their homes and villages in search of a better life in Utah often experience culture shock and feel “stuck,” with no idea of what to do next.

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Martha and Mike Meredith at their home in Millcreek, Utah.

Mike and Martha Meredith are Pacific Islanders who have overcome many social barriers in order to be living comfortably in Millcreek, Utah. Martha vividly remembers her father cutting down and cracking coconuts in Tonga and then watching her mother clean them out. Martha was 10 when her family left Tonga and moved to New Zealand.

That’s where she met Mike. Mike was born in American Samoa but grew up in European Samoa until his family moved to New Zealand when he was 13. Martha recalled, “My family went through several migrations, first among the islands, then in New Zealand, and finally to America. My sister came first, then my parents. Mike and I were married and we had two little children and a third on the way when we came. We had no idea what on earth we were getting into.”

These migrations seemed so natural for their families, Martha explained, but when they got to America and it was so vastly different, they felt isolated and trapped. They weren’t sure how to assimilate while remaining true to their cultural practices.

Matapuna Levenson, a lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center, said, “Culture is living. It is not stagnant. We don’t stay the same. Pacific Islanders are navigators. We were the greatest ocean navigators in the world. We are explorers. So the idea of just staying the same, staying in one place, staying in one mindset, is so contradictory to the values that our culture is perpetuating and encouraging, what our ancestors were hoping for us.”

And now that these navigators are here, pursuing the American dream, what can they do? Where can they turn for help?

Jake Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah, Utah Department of Health, said it is difficult for Pacific Islanders to navigate a social system that has completely different values because they aren’t sure how to do their part. In a village, everyone has their role and every role contributes to the overall wellness of the village.

According to the Utah Department of Health, “the overall proportion of NHPIs (Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders) in Salt Lake City is greater than [in] any other city in the continental U.S.” One would assume that having a larger population would mean people have a community, a place to go, individuals who want to help. But what happens when those who came before you still feel adrift and disillusioned?

Fitisemanu wants to empower people who feel misplaced or lost. “I’m interested in mobilizing communities for political power, because this is the United States, that’s how it works here.” Fitisemanu sees the bigger picture after working for the government in the health department and as a city councilman for West Valley City. If the goal is getting Pacific Islanders to feel comfortable utilizing resources, then including them in the governing structure is one good way to do that.

Mike Meredith is another advocate for Pacific Islanders. He served on an advisory board for the Pacific Island community in Utah that focused on ways to improve education and resources for their communities. Because of his service on the board, Mike knows the issues that make it difficult for Pacific Islanders to start looking for resources, even if they are available.

“Especially in Utah, there’s a vast window that is open for them,” Mike said. “But one of the fears is picking up the phone, calling and setting up an appointment or approaching where there is help and seeking that. But it’s not really fear, it’s just something that’s in them, because they’ve lived in villages. You can go from home to the beach and throw in a fishing rod. Where here it’s wide open. They don’t know where to go or who to talk to.”

While it is true that the Pacific Islander population creates a place for tribal identification and emotional resources, Mike said there is confusion about how the American educational system applies. “The old tradition comes into this country and it’s difficult. Folks come in and think ‘you should have your kids finish school and then send them to work.’ That’s what we did back home. But that’s not the case that’s required here. To grow and progress you need education.”

Mike added that Pacific Islander parents lack the understanding of the benefits of graduating from college and entering the professional workforce. The family culture creates alternatives to college graduation and training required for high-level jobs, resulting in economic instability. The impact on families without sufficient financial stability affects all aspects of life — housing, medical care, food security — not to mention future school and work opportunities.

The Merediths are an exception because Mike was able to graduate with a degree in engineering and have a prosperous career. But he says this ethos was not easy to pass along even to his own children. And it is much more difficult for parents who feel at sea here in the high desert of Utah. Yet he still believes that Pacific Islanders can have it both ways — in his case American prosperity, along with a strong commitment to the values, mythologies, rituals and symbols at the heart of his Samoan-Maori culture and Martha’s Tongan culture.

Activists like the Merediths, Levenson, and Fitisemanu lead the way by empowering and educating Pacific Islanders. Fitisemanu said it is important to continue tradition while also moving forward. “We’re walking into the future backwards,” he said. “That’s how Polynesians see time. This is how we stay connected. Even though we’re moving in distance and in time into the future, we’re always facing the past.” Maintaining this connectedness while moving forward propels Pacific Islanders toward their dreams.

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A quote from Matapuna Levenson, lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family & Justice Center.

Cultural rediscovery in Utah’s Pacific Islander community

Story and photo by DIEGO ROMO

Pacific Islanders have a long history and legacy in the United States that spans multiple generations. In Utah specifically, according to many sources, Pacific Islanders can trace their roots to religious immigrants who arrived shortly after the original Mormon pioneers. The community has left its mark on Utah’s unique cultural heritage and has been shaped by it as well.

Statistics from the Utah Department of Health show that the state is home to 38,000 Pacific Islanders and the average age among the community is 20 years old. Only one-quarter of those who identify themselves as Pacific Islanders are foreign born, meaning that three-quarters of Utah’s Pacific Islander population has no physical tie to the cultural homeland of their ancestors. This leaves many in the community culturally severed from their history and people.

This void leaves many feeling lost, as if they are floating between the two identities that help them to establish their self-image.

“I always felt divided,” said Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources, a Pacific Islander community resource group based in Salt Lake City.

Unlike many of the younger generations of Pacific Islanders in Utah, Feltch-Malohifo’ou has a direct, physical connection to her homeland. The daughter of a woman who worked as a housekeeper at a Mormon coconut plantation, Feltch-Malohifo’ou was born in Tonga, but was quickly adopted by a pair of Mormon missionaries who oversaw the estate.

She described the plantation as one very similar to the those of America’s deep South: rolling lawns with many trees and the key feature situated in the middle, the plantation manor.

Her life changed when she moved into the manor and began attending church school with the children of fellow Mormon church workers in Tonga.

“In my school picture, I’m the only Tongan,” she said. “I lived in Tonga, but didn’t have the real experience.”

Feltch-Malohifo’ou remembers celebrating American traditions like Halloween and Easter, and always having running hot and cold water, an uncommon luxury in Tonga at the time.

From a very young age she adapted to her new life with its unfamiliar traditions and culture, but began to lose some of her Tongan heritage in the process.

When she finally arrived in Utah after spending some time in Texas, she was eager to get back in touch with the Pacific Islander community. But initially she felt like an outsider among her people.

“When I interact with other Pacific Islanders I have a hard time relating,” she said.

Many who share similar experiences to Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou express the same sentiment. This may be attributed to the fact that the Pacific Islander community in Utah is very diverse in and of itself.

According to 2010 census data, the community breaks down into four groups: native Hawaiians, Guamanian, Chamorro, Samoan and Other Pacific Islanders. However, the census is not fully representative of how diverse this community truly is.

For those who are second-, third-, even fourth-generation Pacific Islanders born in America or raised in its culture, it can be difficult to pinpoint which cultural identity to relate to.

“I always looked at what made me different from them,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said, referring to her connection to the Pacific Islander community. “My parents gave me opportunities that other kids of my situation didn’t have.”

Those opportunities and experiences isolated her from the community that she considered family. With no cultural anchor, Feltch-Malohifo’ou began to reach back out to the Pacific Islander community. She was surprised when the welcome wasn’t as warm as she had hoped.

She recalls an early incident when a co-worker at a former Pacific Islander community resource group told her, “If I close my eyes, you think and sound white.”

Hokulani Aikau, a University of Utah professor can relate. “It’s hard to find a way to connect when you feel like an imposter in your community,” she said.

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Hokulani Aikau, a University of Utah professor in the Gender Studies department, is collaborating with fellow faculty to launch the Pacific Islander Studies Initiative.

Aikau was born in Hawaii but was raised in Utah for the majority of her life. She shares many of the same cultural dilemmas as Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou because she was raised in a primarily Anglo society.  Aikau grew up going to schools with white student bodies who were taught by white faculty, about a primarily white history and subject matter.

“How can we claim Hawaiian identities when we were raised here?” Aikau said.

She brings up a major dilemma in the community. How can Pacific Islanders maintain cultural identities when travel back to the islands is sporadic and access to the native language is limited and even nonexistent in some cases?

“Where do we go for that information? Universities are supposed to be a place for that,” she said.

Aikau, along with other professors and staff at the University of Utah, are launching the Pacific Islander Studies Initiative, an enterprise set forth by the university in order to further diversify its faculty and curriculum.

She described it as a hiring initiative that responds to the cultural needs of the community. This initiative would provide Pacific Islander students — who make up about 1 percent of the university’s population — with a culturally relevant education that challenges and critiques the status quo, while at the same time teaching students alternatives that are culturally relevant to their backstories and histories.

“You have to provide students with alternatives,” Aikau said. Especially those that are culturally relevant.

“The most important thing is the building of confidence,” she said, adding that Pacific Islanders “need to know there is a place for them here.”

She also touched on the fact that cultural education needs to address the diversity that exists within the Pacific Islander community.

“To be Hawaiian does not equal dancing hula and working at taro farms. You can express your culture in a variety of ways,” she said.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou’s organization, PIK2AR, provides another avenue for cultural education within the community by empowering parents and families with culturally relevant resources. These resources then help parents take that information back into the home to begin teaching children of all ages about their heritage.

“There needs to be more avenues for diversity within the ethnic communities,”  Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. But ultimately, “It’s about connection. It feels good to be valued,” she added.

Brandon Ragland, whose mother moved to Utah from Hawaii as a young child, seems to agree that implementing cultural education in the home is key to helping children understand their identities.

“Growing up we did lots of things to learn about our heritage and people. Every Sunday the entire family would get together,” Ragland said in a Facebook chat conversation. “We would have endless amounts of amazing food from home and after we ate, my great aunt got all the kids together, she’d teach us some short history lesson as well as a few Hawaiian words for everyday things,” he said.

“And the importance of passing each of those down to through the family to keep the spirit of aloha alive,” he added.

Ragland is now a father and says that he has been and will continue teach his son all that he learned from his great aunt.

“There’s a vast amount of history coming out of the Hawaiian Islands and knowing about it helps keep our ancestors’ memories alive,” Ragland said.

Cultural education is one way to rediscover one’s culture, and it can come in many different forms. But ultimately, it helps to clear the foggy area between cultural intersections and can provide a sense of identity to many who feel lost.

Capitol West Boys and Girls Club helps kids with life skills in a safe environment

Story and photo by MELANIE HOLBROOK

Boys and Girls Club at Capitol West

The Capitol West Boys and Girls Club helps boys and girls in its community become productive and caring citizens in a fun and easy-going atmosphere. Located in Rose Park, youth of all ages are invited to spend their time doing various activities so that they can feel in a safe place.

According to the club’s website, the mission of the Boys and Girls Club is “to inspire and enable the youth in communities, especially those who need it most, to become caring and responsible individuals through guidance-oriented adult relationships and engagement in a variety of enriching activities within a safe environment.”

At the Capitol West Club, located at 567 W. 300 North, Teen Center Director Jessica Hill organizes activities, supervises staff and helps out with recreational games. Activities such as basketball tournaments or billiards are held at the club.

“We go on a lot of field trips too; we’ve gone river rafting. I’ve taken them camping and bowling up at the University of Utah,” Hill said.

Hill explained a lot of their programs are based off of drug prevention. A big goal of the club is educating teens on life skills and how to make the right decision in certain situations.

One of the strongest assets the Boys and Girls Club provides is its formula for impact, which consists of Five Core Program Areas.

Hill said those five areas are character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, sports and the arts. These areas are offered to meet the needs of all types of kids who come in and out of the club. These areas can help kids reach their full potential.

“We really just want to focus on healthy lifestyles and academic success. We obviously want them to become educated so that they can have a good lifestyle and good future and contribute to society,” Hill said.

Although the boys and girls are learning things such as life skills and receiving help with academics, it isn’t a school. “We’re making learning a fun thing to do. We want them to come here because they’re having fun,” she said.

Hill said the club is extremely diverse in ethnicity and age; 50 percent of the club is made up of teens (ages 12-18) while the other 50 percent is made up of children younger than age 12. “We’re located in a very tight-knit community, so we have a lot of African refugees, along with a lot of Hispanic kids, a lot of Polynesian kids; pretty much kids from all of the world,” Hill said.

Javier Argueta is 13 years old and has been coming to the Capitol West Club since he was 6 years old. Argueta said he first went because he didn’t have much to do after school and heard about it from his friends in his class. He decided to stay at the club because he loved the people.

“I like the staff because they always talk to me if I ever have problems. This is my second house because I’m always here,” Argueta said.

He said he’s learned a lot at the club over the years. “I’ve learned to be nice to people and to encourage myself.”

Kids such as Javier Argueta became members after hanging around the club for a few days. Hill explained that by offering membership to kids they can feel a sense of belonging, something anyone wants in life. Membership entails simply having the child’s name documented and knowing a familiar face.

Hill explained at the club kids and staff have been able to make close relationships with one another, creating a high level of trust. Kids know they can confide in staff; people are there to help them out with anything, whether it be homework or emotional stress.