On July 21st, Opportunity Youth Action Hawaiʻi (OYAH) intern Leah Delos Santos presented at the 21st Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement convention on behalf of the Partners in Development Foundation (PIDF), featuring the important policy work of OYAH at Kawailoa. 

Delos Santos participated in a workshop, “Policy Briefing with Native Hawaiian Organizations” that addressed policy within Native Hawaiian organizations and highlighted OYAH policy priorities as well as successful measures from this past session. The community of engaged listeners looking to support Native Hawaiian policy developments heard about the passage of SB 2115, which will limit solitary confinement of youth and plans to reintroduce the youth emancipation bill next session. 

“Being a policy intern for OYAH has been the best and most fulfilling work I have done to date,” said Delos Santos. “And, it was amazing to hear about the current efforts of other Native Hawaiian organizations.” 

OYAH engaged college student advocates like Delos Santos to advance initiatives in support of its member organization. Priorities include Native Hawaiian equity in the criminal justice system, mental health, trauma-informed care, and the education, and wellbeing of youth. 

Delos Santos is a political science and sociology undergraduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa focusing on state policy and advocacy. She first joined OYAHʻs Policy Externship initial cohort in 2021 and returned in 2022. 

“I’m so inspired by young ʻōiwi leaders like Leah who become passionate, informed advocates for positive change in our state,” said Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni, President and CEO of PIDF and member of OYAH. “She and the other interns help build empathy and understanding about the daily struggles of justice-entangled youth who cope with homelessness, violence, and mental health issues stemming from historical and other sources of trauma. Their voices are powerful and will make Hawaiʻi better for all of us.”

Delos Santos supported policy work for OYAH at Kawailoa, which includes community and state agency campus partners: Partners in Development Foundation and its Kupa ʻAina Natural Farm, Kinai ʻEha, Residential Youth Services & Empowerment (RYSE), Hale Kipa’s Hale Lanipōlua Assessment Center (HLAC), and the Kawailoa Youth & Family Wellness Center (State of Hawaiʻi’s Hawaiʻi Youth Correctional Facility) and Olomana School. 

“OYAH and its members’ missions inspire me everyday and give me hope for the future of Kānaka Maoli and our lāhui as a whole,” said Delos Santos. 

Leah Delos Santos accompanied by PIDF President & CEO Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni and the newest OYAH policy intern, Haumea Velasco.

As a policy intern during the legislative session, Delos Santos tracked, monitored, and testified on hundreds of bills that align with OYAH’s policy priorities. During the off-session, she joined OYAH in meetings with legislators and stakeholders to find ways they can collaborate and potentially introduce or reintroduce legislation. During her internship, Delos Santos presented as guest speaker for the virtual policy advocacy training for students, and wrote articles for Honolulu Civil Beat.