Budget stirs gang fears


POSTED: Saturday, March 07, 2009

If it were not for Adult Friends for Youth, Ryan Beauchan, 19, of Waipahu would not have earned his high school diploma.

“;They the reason why I graduated,”; he said.

Christopher Ulep, 33, who once lived at Kalihi Valley Homes, said Adult Friends for Youth helped him turn away from gangs and drugs when he was a teenager and helped him to graduate from high school. “;It changed my life,”; said Ulep, a sheet metal worker on Maui.

And Adult Friends for Youth has been effective in reducing violence on campus and helping troubled youths receive the equivalent of a high school diploma, said Farrington High School Principal Catherine Payne.

But she fears there will be a rise in fights, vandalism and crime by gang members as the nonprofit group faces budget cuts from the city.

“;If they rob you, break into your home, there also (is) the human cost,”; she said.

Adult Friends for Youth is one of many nonprofit organizations facing funding cuts and reduced services, as private donations and government funding diminish during the economic recession.

Another group, West Maui Watershed Partnership, could be forced to lay off 40 percent of staff because of reduced state funding, official Chris Brosius said.

Adult Friends social worker Malakai “;Moe”; Maumalanga said the program has developed enough trust that some 80 gang members at the public housing projects Kuhio Park Terrace and Kalihi Valley Homes are turning to mediation rather than fights during and after school.

“;They come from rough family life, rough neighborhoods,”; said Maumalanga, 33, a former gang member.

An advisory group appointed by the mayor's administration and the City Council gave Adult Friends a low score in ranking grants, resulting in a recommendation against renewing the $116,000 annual project.

The Council is reviewing the committee's proposal.

Adult Friends for Youth President Deborah Spencer-Chun said with the economy in a slump, her organization would have extreme difficulty finding alternative money sources.

Other nonprofit groups statewide face shrinking budgets as well, sometimes with potentially harmful effects to the larger community, according to the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations.

“;It's happening at a time when these services are needed more than ever,”; said Lisa Maruyama, alliance president.

Maruyama said the groups affected the most have relied heavily on government funding.

She said a number of nonprofit groups provide food and shelter and also preventive health programs to reduce community problems.

“;People on the brink of losing their homes who are overwhelmed and stressed out over the situation are going to turn to community-based services more than ever,”; she said.

Maruyama said that when social services are reduced, more money eventually will be spent on expensive crisis funding, such as imprisoning people who have turned to crime.

“;When you tend to be reactionary, it tends to be expensive,”; she said.

Payne said many of the youths served are on the edge of falling into criminal behavior and that spending $116,000 annually to fund the program is significantly less than if they commit crimes and go to jail.

Payne said Adult Friends for Youth has been so successful in helping youths obtain their equivalent of a high school diploma that a satellite program was set up as an adult education program.