For Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami, the suicide crisis affecting ‘ohana on the Garden Isle is more than just a glaring statistic, or a news flash – it has made a devastating impact on his family.
Mayor Kawakami lost his brother to suicide, and he chooses to share the painful personal story to “break the silence on a very touchy subject.”
In a proactive effort to build resistance and confidence in the community – as opposed to reactively addressing suicide – a hui of Kaua‘i community collaborators have formed the Kaua‘i Resilience Project. Members of the KS Kaua‘i & Ni‘ihau Region team joined community partners at a public forum on May 14 at the War Memorial Convention Hall hosted by Keiki to Career Kaua‘i and the Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance to roll out the initiative and detail the continuing efforts to help keiki find and capitalize on a sense of hope and purpose.
The Kaua‘i Resilience Project was shaped using data from a 2018 “Youth Report,” and is supported by 19 organizations and businesses.
“You’re here in this room,” Mayor Kawakami told attendees, “because we have a common denominator: preventing suicide. We want to invest in our youth, our most precious resource. This is an investment in our future.”
To get the project going, collaborators researched and gathered data around issues affecting youth today and hosted eight focus groups to gain input from students across Kaua‘i. By identifying root causes of stress and anxiety, collaborators are working to form solutions and connect the community.
“This effort can really change the momentum for Kaua‘i,” KS Kaua‘i & Ni‘ihau Regional Director Buffy Ofisa said. “The foundation is that our community needs to see these kids as their kids, so we’re going back to our roots. We can accomplish this by working together and empowering the community to take care of our keiki.”
According to the latest available statistics, 28% of Kaua‘i high school students felt “sad and worthless” for extended periods of time, and nine percent seriously contemplated or attempted suicide in 2018.
“It’s been a wake-up call for many of us to learn that nine percent of high school students on Kaua‘i attempted suicide last year,” Darcie Yukimura, Kauai Resilience Project action committee member and director of community philanthropy at the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, said. “This project truly began when education and business leaders, along with the government and nonprofit sector leaders, joined forces to research the issue and launch a coordinated effort that will improve young lives.”
The collaboration also includes the State Department of Education’s (HIDOE) Kaua‘i Complex Area, which includes Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i and Waimea High Schools.
“As educators, we’re here to support our partners including local businesses and non-profit organizations,” HIDOE Kaua‘i Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki said. “Ultimately, as an educational system, this is our community – our families and our children – as we build positive factors to combat suicide. Kaua‘i has always been a place where people come together and help one another, and this is just the start.”