Juno Ann Apalla is only 28 years old and already a force to be reckoned with. Not only did she run for Kauai County Council last year, but now she’s a candidate for the 2017 Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) Board of Directors. The Kauai High School graduate also wears many voluntary hats, including at Zonta Club of Kauai and as an organizer for the March of Dimes March for Babies in April. She’s a promising face of her generation — yes, she’s a millennial.
“Keep getting involved. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep being passionate about it,” she says in encouragement to her peers. “And don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot live your dreams because that’s what’s going to revive our construct, our society.”
And it’s much easier to get involved than most millennials might think. Despite the fact that she works for her father, Antolin, at his dental practice and is pursuing an MBA from University of Hawaii at Manoa Shidler College of Business, she still finds time to attend all KIUC board meetings that are open to the public.
“I know we have time to do it because we can make time to go to the gym,” she says during an interview at Lawai International Center, where she also volunteers.
And what she’s found out at the KIUC board meetings is that it is making a diligent effort toward sustainability.
“It’s always a different perspective when you’re sitting on the inside through these meetings than what you hear outside from the community. When we’re on the inside, they’re talking about how they are going to take care of the members,” she says. “There’s a disconnect.”
That detachment is what she’s attempting to mend by encouraging more of her peers to get involved.
“The real disconnect is the actual presence of people in each other’s lives,” she says.
The same goes for the political realm, which she admits can get pretty combative. She would rather set a different example and help build a bridge between the community and government officials.
“We have so many things going on here we can be proud of, thanks to our leaders,” she says. “We need to step up a little bit more and be thankful to them, and we’ll be more inclined to get where we need to go by working with them and not against them.”
It’s not an easy goal, however. She received plenty of criticism during her campaign for county council. She was told she was too young, given grief for being a woman and informed she didn’t have enough experience. “I was told I wasn’t good enough a lot,” she says.
Being told to “grow up” is something many millennials face today.
“Even though my peers are full-blown adults with full-blown families and starting their careers, we’re still considered children,” she says.
But rather than give up, she turns those judgments into something positive. The most challenging comments end up giving her the strength and courage she needs to persevere. And while she didn’t win a Kauai County Council seat in 2016, she surpassed her goals and landed in 10th place with more than 7,800 votes. “I was glad for more than 100 votes,” she says.
She’s not sure yet if she’ll do it again, but she is determined to make waves in other ways. “I put myself out there and now it’s all out there,” she says.
Justin Kollar, Kauai County prosecuting attorney, has been impressed with Apalla’s perseverance since the moment he met her three years ago at Kauai Fashion Weekend. He was one of Apalla’s escorts down the runway for the event, which she also happened to help organize.
“I was impressed by her poise, and by her ability to command the attention and respect of those around her,” says Kollar, who has since become one of Apalla’s mentors.
The fact that she has done so much since returning to Kauai in 2012 — following her graduation from Pacific University in Oregon with a degree in media arts — only proves her moxie.
“It’s refreshing to see a new generation of leadership step up and lean in to all the many challenges we face,” says Kollar. “Juno has a wonderful ohana and a bright future.”
She also has a bright past. Apalla’s been in the spotlight since she started singing as a child in the Immaculate Conception Church choir. Originally from the Philippines, Apalla immigrated with her family to Kauai at age 7. She’s been entertaining audiences with her musical and acting talents on the Garden Isle for as long as she can remember.
“It was a way to express creativity and practice leadership,” says Apalla, who has been in numerous productions, including Miss Saigon.
Those experiences helped her realize the importance of building relationships and working together as a cohesive community. And places like Lawai International Center, which she often visits to bring back balance to her busy world, also represent her dream of bringing people together, no matter what their cultural or belief systems may be.
“If we ever should see a revolution, let it not be through war and opposition, but by our collective efforts to work together creatively for a greater good,” she says. “The real magic happens when the community is together and not against each other.”