A Safe, Comfortable Place
Jaelyn Belarde used to be painfully shy and considered what others thought of her too much. Today, the Kauai High School senior is a much different person, thanks to Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii.
“I mainly learned how to get out of my comfort zone,” she says. “Now I take charge of situations.”
Rendle Mones shares a similar story. During his childhood, he dealt with bullies and lacked confidence.
“I also considered suicide at one point,” admits the Kauai High School junior.
Those days are behind him now. He has a much more positive attitude about life and has since become inspired to help others. He also credits his accomplishments to BGCH.
Belarde and Mones were two of three BGCH Youth of the Year candidates from Kauai for 2016. They traveled to Oahu last month with the third candidate, Alexis Freeman, in hope of winning the nationwide competition. Belarde and Mones are two of three finalists up for the title, and one may be announced at a luncheon Saturday (March 5) on Oahu. If picked, the winner will advance to the state competition.
The Youth of the Year program is an opportunity for teenage BGCH members to brush up on leadership skills, as well as community service, academics, essay writing and public speaking. All program participants (usually freshman and sophomores) as well as candidates (typically juniors and seniors) are BGCH members and part of its Leaders In Training program. The national winner, as well as state and regional winners, receive scholarships and earn recognition for their achievements.
“They are kind of, like, our best of the best, brightest of the brightest kids,” says Jacy Youn, BGCH Kauai Area executive director.
Ben Ludgate, a Kauai High School sophomore, is one of those teens in training to be a candidate. Originally from American Samoa, he had a hard time fitting in with other kids when he moved to Hawaii. But what made it more difficult was that he was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was only 2 years old. The disease has had long-term effects on his health, and even though he is currently in remission, he still struggles with the aftermath.
“I was really lonely. I had no one to hang out with,” he says.
Joining BGCH after-school programs allowed him to make friends and step out of his comfort zone. Now he’s helping other kids by tutoring them in subjects such as math.
Ryan Mones is another Kauai High sophomore in training to become a candidate. He became a member of the organization after participating in a BGCH hip-hop program when he was younger (the same way his brother Rendle and Belarde became members).
“It gives me a purpose in life,” he says.
He often found himself getting into trouble in middle school and admits to cheating on homework.
“But the club has changed me,” he says.
He’s become a positive influence on other youths and ensures that the students he tutors have a thorough understanding of their homework. He likes the new friendships he’s made and the fact that others now look up to him.
“It helps me to see life better and how I can live my life to the fullest,” he says. BGCH celebrates its 40th
anniversary this year. The first Kauai facility opened in 1993, following Hurricane Iniki, to help parents give their children something to do. Currently, there are three clubhouses on Kauai — Kapaa, Lihue and Waimea. Lihue is the second-busiest club in the state and currently has a waiting list.
“We’re definitely bursting at the seams,” says Youn.
The organization gives kids a place to go after school and during breaks at a nominal cost to parents or guardians. Kids ages 7 to 17 can do homework, participate in sports or enjoy activities such as arts and crafts, or various development programs including Youth of the Year academy. Often the kids are at-risk, dealing with circumstances such as domestic abuse at home, but that isn’t always the case.
“It’s a real comfortable, safe place for them to come and know that people don’t judge them,” says Christian Naea, BGCH Kauai area director of programs. “I’ve been here for eight years and I can see the impact the club has on the kids. I’ve had kids tell me that without BGCH, they wouldn’t be here today — it saved their lives.”
Adds Rendle Mones: “This club has also taught me to persevere through some tough times. Even when work gets hard for me, I just know that, in the end, it’s worth it.”
Belarde also has had a life-changing experience at BGCH: “I see more faith and hope in a life,” she says.
Visit bgch.com for more information.