Within each individual, regardless of background, experience, or circumstance, is a story to tell. At the beginning of May, six youth from Kinai ‘Eha along with their Executive Director, Josiah Akau, and PIDF President and CEO, Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni, PhD., traveled to Lexington, Kentucky to attend and present at the 2024 Rural Summit. The Rural Summit is an event hosted by Partners for Rural Impact that brings together teachers, principals, educational leaders, legislators, and nonprofit leaders to share ideas and strategies to ensure that youth growing up in rural communities can enter school ready to learn, with successful transition to college and career opportunities.  

Meaning “to extinguish pain,” Kinai ʻEha is a program that aims to provide an alternative education option to youth who have dropped out of high school and who have been unsuccessful in the traditional public school system. Through personal empowerment, education, Hawaiian Culture, workforce training, community service, and leadership, the youth that participate in the Kinai ʻEha program have the skills necessary to build a successful foundation for the rest of their lives. 

Kinai ʻEha was invited and sponsored by Partners for Rural Impact to present their mission and stories at the Plenary. With 750 people in attendance, the six youth opened their hour-long presentation with an oli, a Hawaiian chant. They then proceeded to share their personal moʻolelo (stories) and how the Kinai ʻEha program components have helped them grow as individuals and build community. By engaging in workforce development, starting fitness journeys, acquiring certifications, embracing Hawaiian Culture, volunteering in the community, and seeking therapy, each of the youth highlighted the significance of Kinai ʻEha in their personal transformations. They concluded their presentation with their haʻa koa, and a Q&A session. 

“We were like celebrities!” said one of the Kinai ʻEha youth presenters. The crowd was in tears by the end of the presentation and awarded the presenters with a standing ovation. Melissa Waiters, Diversion Case Manager at Kinai ‘Eha shared, “They (Kinai ‘Eha youth) don’t normally speak publicly, and they did a really great job. They were practicing their speech until 11:00pm the night before. The crowd was laughing along with their jokes, and everyone did well.” The youth mingled with the crowd after their presentations and made many positive connections. Although some of them are still working towards obtaining their High School Equivalency Diploma (GED), they were offered job opportunities and college scholarships from attendees who were moved by their presentation. 

It is through experiences like the 2024 Rural Summit where stories are shared, and doors are opened. These youth not only left a lasting impression on the summit attendees, but also represented Hawaiʻi at a national level. In their achievements, these individuals stand as living testaments to the transformative influence of initiatives such as Kinai ʻEha, showcasing its profound ability to guide youth towards positive paths through cultural intervention and a purpose grounded in values.