yo! helping oahu's youth in need

David Frickman
February 20, 2024
health

Alika Campbell says his role at the Youth Outreach program in Waikiki, or YO!, came “by accident.”

“Working at YO! with runaway, homeless, and street-identified youth and young adults was never my plan,” says Campbell, Youth Outreach program manager with Hale Kipa, a nonprofit agency working with youth and their families. “Now, I really feel privileged to be doing this work.”

Meeting needs
Youth Outreach is a program coordinated through Hale Kipa and Waikiki Health, offering a drop-in safe haven for youth and young adults in need of services such as food, clothing, hot showers, medical care, and social services.

“If someone just wants to take a nap, we have a couple of couches for that,” Campbell says. “We also have some computers for the clients to use; they goof around on social media or play games, but they can also do productive things like apply for a job.”

Youth Outreach started in 1989 in response to a needs assessment done by a University of Hawaii graduate student. “The assessment showed that there was a fairly high number of runaway, homeless, and street-identified youth and young adults on the streets of Waikiki,” Campbell says. “These youth and young adults, for the most part, were not accessing services from the adult service providers and were very much falling through the holes of the social service safety net.”

Building trust
To get the word out on the street about the program, Campbell says trained staff meet youth and young adults in need “right where they are at and begin the process of building trust and rapport. Many, if not most, of our folks have been in and out of ‘the system’ and many of them have a pretty healthy mistrust of adults. So outreach workers may need to invest a fair amount of time and effort before they’re willing to talk with us.”

That’s a role Tracey Ngiratebl played when she volunteered with YO! as a student at Hawaii Pacific University. Now an administrative assistant with HMSA’s Federal Employee Program, Ngiratebl would pass out packets of resources and information to youth while getting to know them and their stories.

“There was a girl who was working on her GED,” she says. “She eventually got into school, finished high school, and began working on a social work degree.”

Ngiratebl says the experience volunteering with YO! was eye-opening “to see all of these kids dealing with a lot of things that I can only imagine. If you ask why someone should get involved with the program, I ask ‘Why not?’”

Unplanned career
As for Campbell’s “accidental” beginnings at YO!, “I had worked at another Hale Kipa program for a couple of years, teaching independent living skills to young adults aging out of foster care. I left Hale Kipa to try to sneak my way into graduate school and ended up running out of money and needing a job. Since I had worked for Hale Kipa before, I knew it was a good agency and I was looking to return, but the only position that was open at the time was at YO!,” a three-month position that would end when its grant ran out.

“I knew about YO! but didn’t think it was anyplace I wanted to work at, but I really needed a job.”

That was 1997. That three-month job evolved into the position that Campbell still holds today. “It turns out that I really love working at YO!”

Campbell says the program is making a difference and that the youth and young adults who need help the most are responding.

“They don’t have to come to YO!. They don’t have to talk with me. It’s an honor that they allow me to participate in their lives.”

YO!, located at 415 Keoniana St. in Honolulu, accepts donations, particularly clothing. For more information, visit Hale Kipa or Waikiki Health.

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