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Ke Ola: The Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island

By Mālielani Larish

Embraced by trade winds and an expansive view of the bay, 100 members of the Hilo Boys & Girls Club sing “Ho‘o Nani” to bless the afternoon meal. With a “Pa‘i ka lima!” from their leader, the students clap twice and then flood towards the kitchen in a jubilant tide of laughter and chatter.

Between bites of chicken spaghetti, carrots, and garlic bread, the students explain what they enjoy about attending the Boys & Girls Club’s signature after-school program. The consensus is clear: students love the opportunity to form lasting friendships, play games and sports, and learn more about Hawaiian culture. Parents love that the program fosters academic excellence, healthy lifestyle choices, and leadership skills—complete with quality academic support and nutritional supplementation—at a cost of only $10 per year.

Proud to be the state’s longest-running Boys & Girls Club, the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island provides a fun, safe, and caring environment for approximately 1000 youth during after-school hours. Within the last three years, BGCBI has overcome financial hurdles, opened three new locations, and added vital services for its members.

Righting the Canoe

When Chad Cabral became the club’s CEO in May 2016, the nonprofit suffered from a $600,000 budget deficit, with a $1.2 million budget waiting to be amassed. Chad recalls that his initial discussions with board members and staff revolved around the question, “How are you going to close programs?”

Chief Executive Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island, Chad Cabral. photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island

Chief Executive Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island, Chad Cabral. photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island

Confident in the value of the organization’s youth development efforts, which have benefited the island since 1952, Chad knew that he didn’t need to change the organization’s mission, staff, or programs. Instead, Chad focused on forming partnerships with local government, networking with businesses and the public, streamlining direct service operations, and increasing the nonprofit’s visibility. In addition to performing his required CEO functions, Chad volunteered his time as the organization’s janitor, lawn mower, and T-shirt printer to save on expenses.

Identifying that most of the kids that the Boys & Girls Club serves are of Native Hawaiian ancestry, Chad secured additional partnership support from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools.

BGCBI is proud to incorporate a strong cultural learning component into its youth programs. Students learn and practice Hawaiian oli (chants) every day as part of their afternoon protocol. Students also conduct weekly research on a wahi pana (significant historical and cultural place) in their community and share their findings with youth at other site locations via video. Hilo students regularly engage in service projects at the Waiāhole Loko I‘a (fish ponds) in Keaukaha.

Through Chad’s visionary leadership, the nonprofit not only kept all of its services open, it also opened three West Hawai‘i clubhouses, improved program access for East Hawai‘i and Ocean View members, and initiated a healthy full-meal program at the Hilo site.

Developing Chapters in West Hawai‘i

The Boys & Girls Club identified three communities in West Hawai‘i that had the highest likelihood of families in need: Kealakehe, Ocean View, and Ulu Wini. When BGCBI opened the Kealakehe chapter in September 2017, member applications soon exceeded the number of available spaces, necessitating a waitlist. Conveniently located on Kealakehe school property, the site serves 100 kids, many of whom live in low-income housing projects or neighboring Hawaiian Homelands properties.

Bren Bailey, whose son has attended the Boys & Girls Club at Kealakehe for two years, says that the program offers much more than she expected. She loves spending quality time with her son after she picks him up from the program, noting that she doesn’t have to worry about coaxing him to do homework, because it’s already completed by the time she arrives.

Boys & Girls Club youth engage in daily physical activities. photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island

Boys & Girls Club youth engage in daily physical activities. photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island

“I know that he’s in good hands,” she reflects. “All the staff is amazing and show how much they care for each student.”

Janet Salgado-Cruz has five kids, three of whom attend the Kealakehe Boys & Girls Club program. As a native Spanish speaker, Janet felt inadequate when she tried to help her children with their homework, so she greatly appreciates how her kids receive quality homework assistance in English. Like their peers in Hilo, her kids love …