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Farming program that aims to help at-risk youth find their way is a finalist for $20M grant

Original story aired on Hawaii News Now on Sep. 27, 2021 by Jim Mendoza, here.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – On a small farm at the foot of Mount Olomana, the Kawailoa Project helps disadvantaged and at-risk youth find their way.

“We wanted to create a place of healing, a place for them to come and say, hey, everything is OK with what’s happening to you. We want to give them opportunities to survive,” Mark Patterson said.

He co-manages the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center, which is a partnership initiative from Partners in Development Foundation, Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, Hale Kipa, Kinai ʻEha, Olomana School, and RYSE.

The Kupa Aina farm is one piece of a large vocational training system that assists helps homeless and incarcerated youth and victims of sex trafficking.

“Pre-COVID, we were serving up to 200 to 300 kids a day, which is remarkable,” Patterson said.

Machijah Perez-Fonseca went through the program and now works at the farm.

“From when I was volunteering to working full-time now, it’s been almost like a whole year,” he said.

KYFWC wants to establish a residential mental health campus for minors. The ultimate goal is to perfect a program rooted in Native Hawaiian practices that ends youth incarceration.

“We’re almost there with the girls, and the boys will come soon after,” Patterson said.

Kawailoa caught the eye of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It named KYFWC one of 10 finalists in its Racial Equity 2030 challenge.

“The top three finalists will receive $20 million each over a 10-year period,” Patterson said. “The next two finalists will receive $10 million each.”

The other five will also get continuing financial support.

An old canoe outside one of the campus’s buildings is a visual reminder that the project is on a journey and there’s a destination.

“We’re going to say that this model can be replicated in the mainland, on the continent, and any indigenous population around the world,” Patterson said.

KYFWC partners with local and national agencies and organizations. Patterson said the farm and its other programs lay the groundwork for turning lives around.