By Lee Cataluna
Bill Honer is one of those people you hope to sit next to at a dinner party or a long plane ride. An avid reader, world traveler and political observer, Honer is full of fascinating stories and surprising deductions about the way society operates.
During the past year, Honer has taken his wealth of worldly knowledge to the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility at Olomana. He teaches classes through a grant from the City and County of Honolulu to the Hawai'i Human Development Corporation.
Honer found the boys, called "wards" in the correctional system, eager to learn and willing to participate.
"Many of them seem very willing to make a connection, to getting information about the world, learning about it."
The classes were officially called "Work Attainment Training" and "Leadership Skills Training," but Honer challenged the boys with questions about current events, engaged them in analysis of world politics, and even talked at length with them about Enron. But most importantly, he approached them with the expectation that they will become full participants in society.
"I think that the youth, that when they're approached in a manner that indicates that there's a recognition of their intelligence and a clear message of respect for them and for their time, and a willingness to tell them how things are rather than an idealized reality of a perfect society, they respond with sincerity and respect. That's been my experience."
At first, Honer tried a classroom setting. He later found that the boys, who are all there by court order, did better with individualized attention.
The Hawaii Human Development Corporation is fairly new to this sort of clientele. HHDC came into being to provide retraining for plantation workers in the waning days of sugar. Now that only two sugar plantations remain in Hawai'i, HHDC did some job retraining of its own, and found its services and expertise filled a need in prison, ex-offender and homeless populations.
"Our thing is a worker is a worker," says HHDC president Andy Aguillon. "There's nothing like being gainfully employed and happily employed to lift the human spirit."
Bert Matsuoka, executive director of the Office of Youth Services, which oversees the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility, says the wards at Olomana tend to do well in vocational training programs.
"For many of them, they've never had any experience like this," says Matsuoka. "It's the first time for them. They've never held tools in their hands or talked about how things work."
Honer says, "I really think that society can't give up on these youth. I think that the two factors why many of them are there are boredom and an unwillingness to grant legitimacy to the authority figures in their lives."
Both Honer and Aguillon tell the boys that they'll always be there for them. And they mean it. They hand out their cell phone numbers and tell the boys to call them anytime if they need help once they're out getting a job or getting job training. The program is only financed until September, but efforts are in the works to make sure the training continues.
"You folks remember Aaron?" Aguillon asks the boys. "He's working. We got him a job. He's a cook. He's doing good."
Aguillon and Honer don't say it out loud, but message is clear: "If he can do it, so can you. We can help."
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.