Top, Phill Roberts plays with his children, Leilani, left, and Kawika Kon,10.

Positive imP.A.C.T.

Community programs offering field trips,
sports activities and homework assistance
help keep at-risk youths out of trouble

By Nancy Arcayna

Keeping kids out of trouble and off the streets is an enormous feat. The task is even greater for parents or guardians with limited resources, who may hold several jobs and are not around to keep an eye on their children.

LouAnn and Phill Roberts understand the importance of "keeping their kids out of harm's way." They are one of the many families living in a high-risk neighborhood.

"We have lived here (in Kuhio Park Terrace) for 11 years and have seen a lot of changes in the community. More people are coming together," said LouAnn, thanks to programs started by P.A.C.T. (Parents and Children Together).

All five of the couple's children participate in P.A.C.T. programs. "The main thing is that it keeps kids off the streets. It gives them something to do after school," she said. "I take care of things day by day."

We help out a lot of kids, not just our own, by keeping them occupied, added Phill, who said kids were running around all over the place when they first moved to KPT. "At times, I have 15 to 20 kids at the house. I have five of my own, so 10 more don't matter," he said with a chuckle.

LouAnn Roberts, left, gets a hug from daughter, 13-year-old Leilani Roberts.

According to P.A.C.T. Teen Program director Cheryl Johnson, the "danger zone" for drug use and negative activity is after school, between 3 and 6 p.m. Job responsibilities keep parents from being home with their children during this critical time. Children who participate in adult-supervised, after-school programs are less vulnerable to drugs or gang activity because they are not hanging out with nothing to do, she said.

A SIDE EFFECT of welfare program changes, which is putting more people back into the labor force, is the presence of more latchkey kids, Johnson said. The Community Teen Program started in 1990 and now serves more than 200 youths. The program funds services for high-risk teens, and promotes academic excellence, leadership development and positive family relationships.

The most effective prevention programs reach children before they become teenagers, Johnson said. "We start them around the age of 7, but some kids are even younger. The older children are often relied upon to look after their younger siblings.

"If we get them when they are young, they have a better chance of moving on through school and making a positive transition to middle and high school," Johnson said.

"The kids in the neighborhood tend to be isolated -- they may be exposed to church, school and KPT, and that is their world."

But that is not enough, she said. In addition to feeling connected to their parents, relatives, friends and schools, youths need to feel connected to their communities.

The Community Teen Program staff takes KPT youths to events such as theater shows, symphony events, mini golf, recreational and sporting events, and trips to the water park or beach.

"We want to expand their world a little bit, so they feel more comfortable in the community," Johnson said. "These things may be typical for many kids, but our kids may have never done them before."

Seated from left in a family portrait are Leisha Kon, 9, LouAnn and Phill Roberts, and Kawika Kon, 10; in the back, from left, are Preston Kon, 11, Philip Kon, 12, and Leilani Roberts, 13.

The youths are also encouraged to participate in neighborhood security walks and various community service projects.

The sports program really helps too, said LouAnn. She and Phill coach baseball and basketball, their 12-year-old son Phillip's favorite activities.

"I'm hoping that my children's involvement in sports is teaching them how to work with others. Problems arise among team members, but they know how to deal with them," said LouAnn, noting that the program helps them deal with peer pressure.

The kids also attend a daily study hall program at the teen center, where tutors are available. A special case manager also works with at-risk kids. Daily drop-in hours provide an opportunity for neighborhood kids to play games, pool, participate in cooking, computer and special activities, or simply hang out.

"It's good for them to see other kids doing homework, and they have a place with no distractions," LouAnn said. "If they were at home, they would be playing with their toys or watching TV with their homework on the side. The staff is so good with the kids, and that is what makes the real difference. They work individually with the kids, because each child has his own personality."

Playing the game Mancala is one of the reasons 9-year-old Leisha Kon enjoys visiting in the center. "I also like playing Monopoly with my brothers and sisters," she said, noting that she can always find a playmate.

Karate is another activity offered at the community hall. Kon's sister, 13-year-old Leilani Roberts, participates in karate classes three times a week. It's her favorite activity because "you learn how to defend yourself." She feels it helps her feel good about herself and safer in her environment.

"The stuff they learn in karate is powerful," Johnson said. "We try to get them to expand the focus and self-discipline they learn there and use it in other areas of their life. Sometimes, it's all about attitude."

LouAnn said: "I worry about everybody else out there, but I know my kids will make the right decisions. If they need help, I know they will come to my husband or me. It's the outside world that scares me."

Starlight and Slippahs

A benefit for the Community Teen Program at Kuhio Park Terrace:

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: La Pietra -- Hawaii School for Girls, 2933 Poni Moi Road

Admission: $100 for individual tickets; and $1,000 to $2,500 for tables of 10. Includes food donated by Auntie Pasto's, Compadres Bar & Grill, Nick's Fishmarket, Big City Diner, Outback Steakhouse in Hawaii Kai and the Kahala Mandarin Oriental. Compadres will also provide margaritas, to complement a wine bar. Entertainment will be provided by Mona Neves Trio, Nina Keali'iwahamana, Halau Na Mamo o Puuanahulu, Bill Kaiwa, Gary Aiko and Kualoa. A silent auction with some items made by some of the teens in the program and a fall/winter fashion show featuring shoes, bags and accessories for men and women are also highlights.

Call: 847-3285 for reservations

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