Land of hope


POSTED: Sunday, April 12, 2009

Homelessness feels a lot farther away to 17-year-old Maisha Abbott now that she's a filmmaker. Although she battled shyness at first, she quickly found confidence in her role as director of a short, and rather enjoyed telling her peers what to do.

“;It's something I can call my own,”; said Abbott, who will graduate from Waianae High School this year.

Teenagers like Abbott, in transition from homelessness, don't get many opportunities in life. But when Big Brothers Big Sisters joined forces with New Hope Diamond Head and UH's Academy of Creative Media to supplement a new program at Maili Land, a transitional housing program through Catholic Charities Hawaii on Oahu's Leeward Coast, students jumped at the chance to learn new skills and tell their personal stories on the big screen.

Last weekend, “;Maili Land's Stories of Hope”; premiered in the Hawaii International Film Festival's Spring Showcase at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18. The presentations included two short films about making friends and keeping promises, as well as behind-the-scenes interviews and footage. Adorned with lei, the 19 students living at Maili Land hosted the public screening.

“;The whole idea is to expose kids to something new and innovative,”; said Dennis Brown, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “;This can help take them from a hopeless situation to giving them hope, by providing opportunities for them that they might not have thought about. What keeps the kids really engaged is if there's a project to work on and an end goal.”;

It all began last October, when Big Brothers Big Sisters started a site-based program that differed from their traditional model, which usually involves outings with a mentor, and doesn't serve the homeless population. They attended some movies at HIFF and set goals: To create their own films and answer questions from the audience afterward. With guidance from their BBBS mentors and technical advisors at UH's Academy of Creative Media, Waianae High School's Searider Productions and Nanakuli High School, they did exactly that.

But the students weren't the only beneficiaries. Maile Sing of New Hope Diamond Head served as Abbott's big sister during the filmmaking process, and found the experience rewarding.

“;It's been amazing,”; said Sing, who works as a college recruiter for UH Hilo. “;Every time I see (Maisha), she's doing new things.”;

The biggest challenge in becoming a mentor was shedding pre-conceptions. And meeting someone like Abbott—who also designs her own dresses and has been accepted into the Art Institute of San Francisco—helped. “;Whatever new thing she can get her hands on, she just excels at it.”;

TJ Gorum, a New Hope Diamond Head mentor to 14-year-old TJ Shirai, said he's noticed changes in the Waianae High School ninth grader as well. “;Just confidence stuff,”; said Gorum. “;Each one carries something inside him. They come from hard circumstances, so to be able to be part of that (evolution) is rewarding.”;

Making the films was a valuable learning experience, but Shirai appreciates the BBBS program at Maili Land primarily “;because I made friends,”; he said, gesturing to Gorum. “;He's like my real brother.”;