It’s Really Big And Little

LaJerrica, Kaulana and Shawna (Coco Zickos photo)

Kaulana Finn (front row, center), who heads Big Brothers Big Sisters on Kaua’i, wants to increase the opportunity for Garden Isle youths to benefit from having a positive mentor in their lives.

Pictured(on the cover) with her (clockwise from bottom right) Kira Rowan, Finn, Kiana Rapozo, Rylee Silva-Vidinha, Natalie Tacata, Wyatt Taniguchi, Blayke Torres, Cayce Silva, Marissa Hesapene, Alyssa Perry, Elijah Langundino

A former Waikiki star is now working to provide caring mentors for kaua’i youths

Kaulana Finn provides keiki with opportunities they might not otherwise have in her role as Big Brothers Big Sisters Kaua’i community director.

“Our kids are so hungry to do great things, and we just need to make it possible for them to do it,” she says.

Mentoring children faced with adversity and helping them believe in themselves are key components of her job.

Big and Little Sisters LaJerrica and Shawna modeling at the Fashion Fiesta show last month. Photos courtesy of Kaulana Finn

“We help Kaua’i’s youths reach their highest potential,” she says.

The organization achieves this goal by pairing children (“Littles”) with responsible mentors (“Bigs”).

Keiki are matched with either high school students through a school-based program or with adult volunteers in the community. The school-based program brings high school students and elementary school students together once a week in a group setting.

“Each child has a goal, and the Big helps them work on it,” says Finn, who has served as the nonprofit’s director since 2010.

The community-based program is for volunteers 18 years and older who wish to spend about two to four days per month mentoring a child between 6 and 16 years old.

Activities can range from fishing to baking cookies together.

“Whatever the Big and the Little decide that they want to do that day,” says Finn.

Floyd Fitzgerald is a Little who is grateful for the opportunities he has received from BBBS.

“You get to do stuff you’ve never tried,” says the 13-year-old Kapa’a Middle School student, who participated in the nonprofit’s school-based program.

“It’s just been a lot of fun being able to do something you don’t do normally,” he says. “It’s something different to do than just being at home. Instead of watching TV, you get to learn a new game or do an art project.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Dave Ashburn, a resident hoping to spend some of his free time mentoring a Little as part of BBBS’s community-based program.

“I want to do it because it sounds like a fun thing to do,” he says.

Ashburn admits he already lives a “junior high school life” skateboarding, swimming and building model cars, so he figures he might as well enjoy the fun activities with someone else.

Big Brother Alan Satta plays football at a ‘Fun in the Sun’ picnic with Little Brother Allen Duran

Finn appreciates when community members like Ashburn voluntarily help to make a difference in a child’s life.

“When we hear from parents about the challenges some of the children might be facing or some of the things that they want for their child, and then to see that child being impacted by a great mentor and seeing the positive changes, actually seeing that is great because you know you’re making a difference,” she says. “You’ve seen them from the beginning to where they are today after having been with that mentor.”

Finn aspired to give back to the community since she was a sociology major at the University of Hawai’i. But it wasn’t until she returned to school for post studies in elementary and special education that she decided to pursue a career influencing keiki.

Finn knows what it means for children to have positive influences in their lives. Growing up in Kekaha, she had many role models in the tight-knit community.

“When they say it takes a village to raise a child, that’s exactly what it was like,” she says regarding the family-oriented Westside. “Don’t think that if you were doing something you’re not supposed to that another auntie or hanai friend of your family won’t tell your parents.”

Finn recalls being so close to her family that moving to Honolulu to attend Kamehameha Schools would have felt like moving to New York City.

“As a child growing up on this island, it seemed so large, and so I declined,” she says.

Big Brother Shiloh Begley helps Little Brother Dreyden Iwamoto do his homework as part of the Kapa‘a Elementary School program

However, Finn did eventually move to O’ahu, where she attended college and worked various jobs, such as emceeing for the late entertainer Moe Keale at the Sheraton Waikiki and dancing hula for Hawai’i Visitors Bureau.

She met her husband David, an alarm technician, in 2000 while working at the Sheraton. She moved with him to Northern California for eight years, where she continued her studies in early childhood development, danced hula with the Academy of Hawaiian Arts and served five years as the director of a child care center.

Finn currently lives with her husband in Kekaha and finds the commute to her office in Lihu’e a great time to decompress.

She particularly likes to watch the sun setting on her way home.

“I love, absolutely love sunsets,” she says. “Sometimes when I’m driving home I have to stop on the side of the road.”

The 1989 Waimea High School graduate has no regrets about where her life has taken her.

“I’ve just been so lucky in life,” says Finn, whose maternal grandfather, Kaholoiki Anderson Kilauano, was 100 percent Hawaiian.

Though she stopped dancing hula when she returned to the island, Finn believes it served one of the greatest purposes in her life. The talent allowed her to travel around the world with the Hawai’i Visitors Bureau and experience many other cultures, including China, where she spent time at a foster home, which only increased her desire to help children.

Little Sister Unique Casto looks up in admiration at Big Sister Angela Dunsmoor-Connor as they work on a project together at the Wilcox Elementary School program

Even though she doesn’t have children of her own, Finn feels satisfied making an impact on keiki.

With an increased presence of drugs and alcohol, the need for positive mentors for youths is more critical than ever, says Finn, who also serves on the Life’s Choices Prevention Team committee, Kaua’i Youth Council and on the board of Leadership Kaua’i.

She is committed to making BBBS’s free services available and visible in the community for as long as possible.

Since their initial interview, Fitzgerald and Ashburn have been meeting regularly every Sunday. They like to skateboard together, and Ashburn is even teaching Fitzgerald how to play drums.

“They are doing great!” says Finn.

Another community-based match that has blossomed since they first met in January are Kapa’a Middle School student LaJerrica Jones and Shawna Eisendrath.

“I don’t have a sister, so I don’t have that big sister role model, so I just needed that really bad. So when I signed up for it, it made a big difference,” says Jones regarding the program.

King Kaumuali‘i School match Big Sister Kiana Okino works on a robotics project with Little Brother Jayze Padilla

The duo spend many weekends playing basketball, walking on the beach, getting food together and hanging out at Eisendrath’s house baking cookies and cake.

“It’s fun,” says Jones. Eisendrath says partnering with Jones was one of the best decisions she’s ever made. The California native works as a juvenile probation officer at the courthouse so she knows the difficulties children can face.

“Being here on the island, it’s hard to see what other opportunities there are,” she says.

So the 25-year-old decided to help by serving as a role model and mentor. Watching LaJerrica grow since they first met has been Eisendrath’s favorite part of the experience.

“I think she can go really far in life,” she says.

For example, if it weren’t for her mentoring, Jones might not have had the confidence to sing karaoke at a recent BBBS event. Thanks to her new ability to face her fears, Jones now insists on participating at every event.

“In so short a time I have seen the relationship move along very nicely,” says Finn.