Do you remember the last time you sat down to enjoy a meal with your family? This could be an easy question to answer considering the holiday season just concluded. However, many people traditionally don’t sit down together for meals the rest of the year.
“There’s something about having families come together, spending more time, eating a meal together … and just having a conversation,” says Tad Miura.
The Kapaa High School grad and co-owner of DÃ©jÃ Vu Surf Hawaii is part of an initiative called Keiki to Career that encourages successful development of children. One aspect of the initiative, called “Share Family Meals,” encourages families to have at least three to five nutritious meals a week together, completely unplugged.
“Smartphones have become such powerful processors of information that they can do anything now, so it’s hard to be away from them,” says Miura, who co-chairs Keiki to Career Leadership Council, a collaboration of several key community members, as well as more than 40 organizations. “Even the parents are on them texting. When you hear that ‘ding’ in the background, you want to go and check.”
Miura wants to curb this addiction and help families reconnect because, by doing so, he says, children build better relationships overall. They also known are to do better in school and be less likely to experience depression. Additionally, drug and alcohol use drops, as well as teen pregnancy.
“And it’s so simple to do,” says Marion Paul, Kauai Planning and Action Alliance president and CEO.
The Keiki to Career initiative operates under the umbrella of KPAA, an organization dedicated to solving community concerns like education.
The mission of the initiative is to help kids stay on track from the moment they’re born to the time they start their careers by improving elements such as their confidence and health. Keiki to Career is KPAA’s flagship education program launched in 2011 that aims at increasing student achievement.
One way to help spread awareness of the importance of sharing family meals was a recent Keiki to Career campaign that asked families to take pictures of themselves during mealtime then post them on Instagram using #Share-FamilyMeals. Jason Iloreta, communications assistant for Keiki to Career and a Kapaa High School grad, came up with the marketing idea and has been working with members of the community, including teachers and doctors, so they will encourage family meals, as well.
“We’re trying to blanket the island with the message,” says Paul.
The team even came up with the idea for a family “gadget basket” in which everyone can place their electronics until the meal is over. And if anyone runs out of things to say while eating, they can create a “Talk Story Jar” with questions that incite interesting conversations, like, “If you could build anything in your backyard, what would it be?”
“It’s simply ‘I love you and I care about you, and I’m listening to you as a member of our family,'” says Paul, who notes that these conversations also reduce depression in parents.
The concept of family meals really isn’t a longshot for the Kauai community.
“Having meals together, especially in Hawaii, is part of our culture,” says Miura. “You can go to whatever community on Kauai and you see families together in their garage with a table, and everyone brings potluck. That’s where we build relationships.”
But televisions, smart-phones and iPads have continued to lead people astray from forming these important human connections.
“What we’re really doing is taking a step back,” says Miura.
He remembers how neighbors used to keep an eye out for each other.
“They looked out for each other in a more meaningful way than we do today,” he says. “When we see someone in need who’s not related to us, we can’t stand by idly.”
And that’s why he and his fellow Keiki to Career team members are spending so much time trying to reverse the disconnection that’s happening.
“So that our youths get to a better place,” he says.
Other aspects of the Keiki to Career initiative include “Reading for Life,” which helps children learn to read well by third grade, and “Prenatal to Kindergarten Strategies,” which not only encourages the health of babies before they’re born but aims to increase the accessibility of preschools across the island.
“I believe every youth can succeed and be happy. It’s up to all of us to help them find their dreams,” says Paul, who adds that the initiative wouldn’t be possible without help from volunteers like Miura, as well as financial supporters. “Youths are our future.”
Visit keikitocareer.org for more information. To participate in the initiative, call Paul at 632-2005.