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Cuts to Youth Programs Detrimental

Community Contributed

By Marla Spencer, Program Manager

During the past several years, I’ve witnessed firsthand amazing achievements of our young people, many of whom had all but given up on attaining their dreams.

In places like Molokai High, Molokai Middle, Baldwin High, and Kalama Intermediate schools, I’ve seen lives turned around, cycles of poverty broken, and new incredible opportunities created.

As the Maui County program manager for Paxen Huli Ke Alo About Face! Family of Programs, I’ve served with a team of approximately 10 instructors and support staff to provide work-readiness, academic and life skills training and education to more than 250 Maui and Molokai students each year.

We are part of larger programming that spans from Kauai to Hawai`i Island that instructs nearly 2,000 at-risk youth in key academic and career skills.

Since their inception in 2003, the About Face! Family of Programs have educated more than 11,000 learners across Hawaii. Of those, more than 94 percent have gained in reading and math core areas. In 2010, we placed more than 3,500 Hawaiian teens in the Summer Youth Employment Program.

But all this soon may come to an abrupt end.

After March 31, our programs, and others like them, could simply disappear. Proposed budget cuts by Governor Abercrombie will eliminate these critical services to students who need them the most.
It is necessary for the governor to focus efforts to reduce the deficit and ultimately balance Hawaii’s budget, but not at the expense of our youth. Our students are Hawaii’s future, one that we risk mortgaging if we cut more than $80 million from critical human services over the next two years, as Abercrombie’s administration plans.
These programs are essential to Hawaii’s future. Our educational services provide learners with the confidence, knowledge and skills to pursue and realize meaningful futures. In many cases, we intervene to detour students from less desirable life paths onto those that instead will benefit their families, communities, and ultimately all of Hawaii.
Our annual per-pupil costs are a fraction of another potential outcome – juvenile or adult incarceration – that could emerge as an undesirable alternative to our programming. The daily per-student cost of these opportunities? About the price of lunch. The return on investment? Priceless.

We understand the current fiscal challenges the state faces. And we agree with Abercrombie that we must explore federal funding options, engage in public-private partnerships and invest in new economies involving clean energy and green jobs. But we shouldn’t do so at the expense of our children.
We instead implore the governor to consider a more measured plan, one that involves the continued funding of human services programs beyond March of this year and through at least the first half of 2012. Such an approach would provide the governor and his staff with the necessary time to critically and fully explore a variety of options to increase the state’s revenue without rushing to eliminate these highly essential services.
It is clear that Hawaii faces many significant challenges. The key is that we must work together to overcome them. Only then can we truly shape Hawaii’s future. Mahalo.
Marla Spencer is Program Manager – Maui County, Paxen Huli Ke Alo / About Face! Family of Programs. You may reach her at (808) 553-8050 or mspencer@paxen.com


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