On a Sunday morning at Waihe‘e beach, eight teenagers and a man with a machete are pulling a tangled, bathtub-sized mess of trash and rope out of the bushes. Some of the wet ropes are as thick as the man’s leg, but his machete hacks them into smaller chunks for the kids to carry. Working together, the teens haul the jumble of ropes, plastic ties, and fishing line down the beach, taking turns to yell “one, two, three, pull!” and dragging it a few feet farther. Their perseverance is noticed by an elderly couple out walking their dog, who join in picking up stray pieces behind the group. The kids take a break on the picnic tables, within sight of their goal: the Maui County dumpster. 

The teens met this morning to learn about joining the Maui Nui Youth Council, a group of young people who advocate for drug-free communities. Three of them have been in the Youth Council for at least a year, while five have come to see what the group is all about. While they rest, they talk-story about the schools they go to, what sports and activities they like. One boy shows a drawing he made on his phone, and another shares that she writes anime stories, but needs an illustrator; a connection is made. A pair of men relaxing with a cooler and bag of chips at a nearby table watch the kids struggle to get the rope off the ground, then come grab the bundle and help them heave it over their heads into the dumpster. One man smiles at the kids and thanks them for helping pick up the beach, tells them that they are showing aloha ‘āina.

Glowing from their accomplishment and after a good lunch, they sit in a circle to end their day. The oldest youth in the group, Kawena, shares that being a part of the Youth Council helped her find her path after high school; she has just started a Social Work program at Maui College. On top of working and taking classes, she wants to help younger kids figure out how they can make a difference. Tyler, the Councilʻs veteran member, tells the middle school students that he was only a seventh grader when he joined four years ago. He shares that participating helped him learn how laws are made, and that when youth speak up to people in power, they can help their community. 

The five new teens contemplate what they hear, as Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth staff share their work. They explain how they talk about problems faced and share experiences, like how to practice public speaking and write testimony, how they look for solutions and try to help each other. The group shares that they too feel like their schools and communities have too much smoking, too many fights, drinking and bullying. 

We hope these young leaders join the Maui Nui Youth Council. The Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth and HIPHI are committed to lifting up youth voices, because their experiences need to be heard by lawmakers shaping their future. Young people are far more powerful at inspiring communities to come together than they know. Returning to the beach to grab his slippers, one of our group runs into the man with the machete. The man tells him, “Thank you for letting me be part of something positive today.”