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We Are Oceania marks 1-year anniversary of Youth Empowerment Center in Honolulu

K-nard Narruhn, We Are Oceania's youth coordinator, at the Youth Empowerment Center in Kalihi. The center hosts cultural activities, such as weaving, and has artifacts on display.
Jayna Omaye
K-nard Narruhn, We Are Oceania's youth coordinator, at the Youth Empowerment Center in Kalihi. The center hosts cultural activities, such as weaving, and has artifacts on display.

K-nard Narruhn has worked with hundreds of Micronesian youth in the islands. The 23-year-old is the youth coordinator for We Are Oceania, a nonprofit that serves the Micronesian and Pacific Islander communities in Hawaiʻi. He was there one year ago when they unveiled the first-of-its-kind Youth Empowerment Center in Kalihi.

“It means the world to me, personally, just because I'm coming from the same background as these kids have and not really having a really strong system like we have in place today,” said Narruhn, who is Chuukese and grew up in ʻAiea and Pearl City. “What also means a lot to me is sort of changing the narrative. Because it's not just members of our community we connect with, but also people outside of our community … so really educating them on our culture and really building understanding between each other.”

Since opening the youth center, Narruhn said they have hosted about three events each month, focusing on college, career and community. Along with three staff members, including Narruhn, a handful of volunteers run the youth center’s programs.

The free events, which are meant to serve youth up to 25 years old, bring guest speakers from different careers and schools to talk about a range of topics, including financial aid, college applications, resume writing and class registration. Other workshops host talk story sessions with elders and cultural activities, such as weaving.

Narruhn said he’s seen many of their youth graduate from college and find jobs.

K-nard Narruhn and Tayreen Apong at We Are Ocean's Youth Empowerment Center.
Jayna Omaye
K-nard Narruhn and Tayreen Apong at We Are Oceania's Youth Empowerment Center.

“What we serve as is not really like a duplicate in services, but really its own unique thing… We have a big emphasis in just regrounding our people through our culture,” he said. “The reason why we've had good turnout is because it's at a space that's meant for them, and it's hosted by people who are from their community and who they can relate to.”

Tayreen Apong, We Are Oceania’s community connectivity program coordinator, added that they have partnerships with community groups and offer translation services.

Apong, who moved to Hilo from a remote island in Micronesia about seven years ago, said it’s also rewarding to see parents come in to the center with their kids and actively participate with them.

According to the state Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, there are more than 18,000 COFA residents living in Hawaiʻi. COFA refers to the Compacts of Free Association treaties, which allow people from the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia to live, work and receive some public assistance in the United States.

Josie Howard, We Are Oceania’s CEO, said a center dedicated to Micronesian youth was a dream more than 10 years in the making.

Many of the youth center’s programs are funded through grants, she said.

Howard, who is from Onoun island in Micronesia, said they were recently awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior that will help pay for new programs with cultural experts and mental-health counselors.

She said many of their youth are smart and capable but don’t have the same resources as other kids do. The center tries to fill that gap, she said, and they hope to continue expanding and offering more programs.

“The youth center means a lot to me and the community,” Howard said. “It is truly a home for our youth where they can come and find all the resources: safety, security, culture, big dreams, health, healing, life dreams, you know, all of that.”

The Youth Empowerment Center is located at 555 North King Street. It is open for walk-ins from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or call (808) 913-1364 to make an appointment. For more information, click here.

Jayna Omaye was a culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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