The Chief’s Kids
Kick Start, a program founded by former HPD Chief Lee Donohue, combines top level karate instruction with tutoring and life skills - and it’s succeeding very well
By Chad Pata
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Lee Donohue Jr., left, followed his dad into police
work and is in charge of karate instruction
at the school
The papers these days seem to be filled with the athletic accomplishments of our youths. From Michelle Wie and Stephanie Kono’s feats on the links to West Oahu’s dominance of the diamond, kids are in the spotlight for their strength.
But what about the smarts? Wasn’t sports just a way of exercising out the jitters from sitting in a classroom all day?
One group has not lost sight of that goal and it can be found in the most unlikely of places: right next to the dump on Waipahu Depot Road.
This is the home of Kick Start Karate, a 10-year-old non-profit operation that puts the emphasis back on the blackboard and off of the backboard. Founded by former HPD Chief Lee Donohue and educator Amy Abe, the idea was to provide at-risk youths with an alternative to drugs and gangs.
Students warm up with a lap
In its decade-long run, it has helped around 600 kids, with every one of them going on to get a higher education. The hook for the kids is that in addition to the education they are receiving, they are also instructed in karate - with some going on to earn national honors.
“We are trying to instill the values of martial arts into them,” says Donohue, whose son Lee Jr. is in charge of karate instruction. “Yes, they learn self-defense, but what we want them to learn is to be good people.”
The classes are held twice a week at the HPD training facility in Waipahu. They consist of an hour or so of lessons on everything from mathematics and Hawaiian history to leadership training, and alcohol and drug prevention. The earliest a kid is allowed in the program is at 11, an age where they have found problems can begin.
“This is the age where kids start to get lost in the shuffle, when they get into middle school,” says Donna “Wai” Victorino, an elementary school teacher who has been involved since 2002. “This is about prevention, not intervention.”
Cody Yanagida, Brittany Hunter, Kaipo Orosco
and Rebecca Save stretch to loosen up
They like to get to the kids before they find trouble, like Blaine Mendoza. Eight years ago he was an aspiring karate student with no place to work out. But once in the program, it evolved into so much more than karate.
“At first, it was just about having a place to train, the guidance part was just a bonus,” says Mendoza,
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