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Why After-School Programs Matter

| Dr. Katie Klinger
In this time of international financial crisis, it is even more imperative that opportunities that assist students academically, economically, and emotionally rise from grassroots efforts.

Liahona Youth Empowerment is a Polynesian organization doing exactly this. Nate and Linda Dudoit have given freely from their hearts to create a multifaceted service program for special-needs and at-risk youth.

The word liahona refers to a holistic approach, or navigational direction, based on personal empowerment through proper physical, spiritual, and life-skills training. Their chosen vehicle is after-school programs in Hawaii held in local parks and community centers.

In fall 2009, nearly 700 students will apply to participate in the five Liahona programs: Strength/Condition, Healthy Bodies Education, Performing Arts, Dance and Music, Vocational and Computer Programs and Life Enrichment, and Senior Volunteers. It is the design and delivery of these programs -- not the labels -- that has drawn students to the organization for three years.

The young people come to Liahona programs because they know they are valued as individuals who have something to contribute to the team, or dance troupe, or fitness group. Their efforts are rewarded intrinsically -- a new experience for many of them -- as they heal feelings of isolation, fear, anger, frustration, and failure.

They interact with local football heroes from the University of Hawaii who serve as volunteers, mentors, and role models. Athletes who go on to mainland universities return to talk story about their journey in reaching their goals.

These role models give the youth a purpose and a passion that is real. The children get to see for themselves that the volunteers, who grew up in the same communities, have carved out a space for themselves while retaining the uniqueness of their own Hawaiian culture and values such as teamwork, responsibility, and humility.

Liahona believes that setting a direction with specific goals and objectives is essential for each youth prior to enrollment. It is mandatory that each child meet with a program counselor prior to enrollment and that they see the counselor to assess their progress quantitatively.

The organization works closely with community youth organizations, local fitness experts, and Hawaii public and private schools. Liahona's popular Strength and Condition Program consists of one-on-one and group training for children and young adults up to three times a week for one- to two-hour sessions.

Liahona and SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, and Quickness) teamed up to develop a unique program that includes lifting free weights, machine apparatus, ply metrics, cardiovascular, yoga, Pilates, and other modalities to help develop their physical, psychological, mental, and emotional well-being.

Volunteers with expertise in areas of health, fitness, and sports hold age-appropriate workshops and classes for kids on topics that support the organization's goals, expanding into areas like safety in sports, how to avoid injuries, proper nutrition, and calculating calories.

Liahona's mission is to build multiple pathways for all kids to be successful. Indeed, the long-term vision includes growing large enough to serve youth in Polynesian communities all around the Pacific Rim.

For Liahona, youth empowerment starts with visualizing success, and, like a rainbow reflecting the light of many prisms, stretches across valleys of time and space to hopefully inspire other grassroots efforts in other communities.

Are you inspired? Has your school or community empowered children in ways similar to this after-school program?

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Comments (23)

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Larry Tenney (not verified)

Empowering youth ...

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THINK Together started its first after-school program in response to a gang-related shooting in the Shalimar neighborhood of Costa Mesa, CA. Since then THINK Together's Shalimar Learning Center has touched nearly a generation of students and empowered them to make positive choices.

Now the organization is taking its award-winning programs to scale and has become the largest provider of after-school programs in California.

The non-profit organization recently produced a video that features the stories of three former students -- kids who were among the first served by the after-school program. Each explains how THINK Together influenced their lives and empowered them to make choices that included graduating from high school, pursuing various levels of higher education and now returning to pay it forward with a new generation of kids in need of support.

You can see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0sDm3pmWtM

Christina Viering (not verified)

Very positive!

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Very positive!

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