Big Island youth in foster care revel in Teen Day activities
More than 20 Big Island teenagers in foster care ranging from 12 to 17 years old had the chance last month to rub shoulders with judges, attorneys, social workers and others while learning about their rights and the services available to them.
The activities were part of Teen Day on Nov. 17. The event was sponsored by the East Hawai‘i Youth Leadership HI HOPES board. HI HOPES, an acronym for Hawai‘i Helping Our People Envision Success, is led by Raquel Gali.
“The goals for Teen Day are to educate foster youth on what rights and services are available to them, encourage them to attend court hearings and meet and talk to their judge, expose them to the court environment in a friendly, welcoming way and really to have an enjoyable time,” 3rd Circuit Family Court Judge Darien Ching Nagata said in a press release.
The youth had the fortune of sharing the Hilo Family Court courtroom with social workers, deputy attorneys general, guardians ad litem, parents’ attorneys, HI HOPES board members and volunteers, Salvation Army Family Intervention staff, judges and Hawai‘i State Judiciary staff members.
The Teen Day program featured a courtroom overview by Nagata, icebreaker activities and a session on “Know Your Rights” with HI HOPES board members Melissa Mayo and Precious Ahulau-Kaleo. There was a panel discussion titled “Participating in Your Court Hearings,” with Deputy Hawai‘i Attorney General Ken Goodenow, guardian ad litem Valerie Grab with the Children’s Law Project of Hawai‘i, Albert Pacheco, HI HOPES board member Kekoa Abellera and Nagata. The Salvation Army’s Jasmine Castro also conducted a session on the Imua Kākou program for foster youth transitioning into adulthood.
Hawai‘i Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald greeted the teens and encouraged them to complete their education, since it will be the foundation of their future success. He then fielded their questions, including, “Of all the careers, why did you choose this one?” “What do you like most about your job?” “When did Foster Care start?” and “What is your favorite mochi?” (By the way, it’s strawberry.)
The youth were also greeted by 3rd Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert D.S. Kim, who encouraged them to be ready to make their mark in the world.
The excitement level in the room went up another notch when it came time for door prizes to be given away. The teens won gift cards, goodie bags, Polaroid cameras and even a pair of Apple AirPods.
The afternoon concluded with pizza and cake and an opportunity to be photographed in the judge’s chair, banging the gavel and asking for “Order in the court!”