Budget Cuts Hurt Kids In Gangs

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - April 14, 2010
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Two years ago, Catherine Payne, the principal at Farrington High School, was telling Adult Friends For Youth (AFY) that there were 21 gangs on her campus. The state Department of Education was telling that gang-intervention organization that Farrington had no gang problem.

Inconsistency is not unknown to the 24-year-old AFY. City prosecutor Peter Carlisle and U.S. Attorney-turned-judge Ed Kubo have spoken in favor of AFY’s methods. Yet many police officials keep saying gang-bangers cannot be turned around and the best solution is to lock ‘em up.

AFY founder Sid Rosen says: “Youth gangs are perceived by both mental health professionals and the lay public as a law enforcement problem, whose members have crossed a line that makes them unresponsive to, and, therefore, unworthy of having help offered to them. Society has turned them into pariahs to be controlled, not helped.”


AFY dissents. It is unique in America in that it not only intervenes in gang battles (like the current Kalihi Valley Homes/Kuhio Park Terrace shooting) and mediates disputes, it also invented “redirectional therapy” - mental health counseling over years if need be to get gangbangers back to school and to see a way into mainstream society.

Rosen and current AFY president and CEO Debbie Spencer-Chun say most gang members don’t want to be in gangs. It’s simply all they’ve known in their neighborhoods. They’d like the good things they see on the outside. They don’t know how to get there. Violence and conflict are ordinary ways of life to them.

Now here’s the odd part. I’ve watched this group since the late ‘80s. Seen it turn gang leaders and whole gangs into productive citizens, put gangbangers back in school, and mentor Malakai Maumalanga from leader of the dreaded Cross Sun gang into an AFY master counselor with a master’s degree in social work from the UH. But it’s still struggling every year for funding.

This year’s budget was $1,035,500. Then in February, DHS director Lillian Koller sent AFY a letter that the state is withdrawing $200,000 in service contracts. The city is trimming off $77,000. This year, AFY is working with 400 at-risk kids in weekly classes plus mediating gang disputes, and with counselors on call 24/7 for problems.

Malakai Malama went to prison for a drive-by shooting. His then-mentor, now AFY president Spencer-Chun, stuck with him and brought him around. She says: “I don’t tell them how to lead their lives. I tell them what’s in their best interest. They have to make the decisions and live with them.”

This year, AFY will have to raise $300,000-$350,000 on its own just to keep basic services going. It badly needs an angel.

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