WAIMEA — A lot of giggles could be heard inside Kahilu Town Hall Friday afternoon as 60 or so Waimea Middle School (WMS) sixth graders listened intently while eight of their classmates played “the compliment game.”
The object was not to laugh while receiving a compliment.
Russell Satele and Bronson Varde, members of Lethal Giggles, led the game. The Honolulu comedians, known on YouTube for their humorous sketches, songs and parodies, visited Friday as special guests in an assembly led by Project Reach Out — a local nonprofit that launched an anti-suicide campaign earlier this month to help students deal with feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts often rampant in middle and high schools.
Friday’s gathering was one of three in April organized by Makela Bruno-Kidani, Lehua Peters and Tammy Muranaka, Project Reach Out volunteers. G. Cruz, a KWXX radio DJ, kicked off the event and provided upbeat music throughout.
“Project Reach Out was born from my work in family therapy,” Bruno-Kidani said, who works at Kaiao Ola Integrative Health in Waimea. “It was a culmination of some suicide deaths that happened in our region last year. I decided last fall we needed to get into the schools, so we started to round up volunteers to be involved. We’re going school to school spreading the message of positivity, unity and harmony to make students happy, laugh and reach out if they need help.”
Earlier that day, she and the other volunteers held the same one-hour talk at Kanu O Ka Aina. The campaign officially launched April 13 at Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School, followed by an assembly at Honokaa Intermediate School, Bruno-Kidani’s alma mater.
“I’ve learned by working with other people that it’s about creating a community where there’s more positivity, people talking about their emotions and wellness,” she said.
When Muranaka took to the stage, the hall became silent. A three-time cancer survivor and Waimea Elementary School staff member, she spoke personally to the sixth graders, sharing challenges she experienced at their age and as a young adult.
“I grew up being different because I was gay,” she told them. “Kids used to tease me and tell me I wasn’t a real girl because I dressed like a boy. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I could be me.”
Muranaka continued, “My message to you is to be the person that you want to be. You have to define yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks. And always choose kindness. You never know how the words you say will affect someone else.”
Lehua Peters, a junior at Honokaa High School, spoke candidly about struggles she has faced in middle and high school.
“I don’t want anyone else to feel the bad thoughts I used to feel when I was alone. It led to a lot of negativity in my life,” she said. “I learned from my therapist coping skills that got me out of my negative self. I’m stronger now; a mothering figure to my friends and fellow classmates. I want other students to know that things get better and they’re not alone.”
Peters said she plans to major in psychology in college and one day become a child therapist herself.
Project Reach Out works on limited funds generously donated by Hawaii County Council and Kahua Pa’a Mua, a North Kohala nonprofit organization. To continue future assemblies at other schools on the island, Bruno-Kidani is seeking additional support.
“We’re looking for grants and donations from businesses and individuals to go islandwide,” she said. “Our minimum budget is $5,000 for two school assemblies. Kohala and Waikoloa Village schools have expressed interest but we don’t have enough funding yet.”
As her final words to the sixth graders Friday, Bruno-Kidani said, “Kindness is key. You can find that hope in the way you treat each other. This is the land of aloha. We have no excuses. We need to be better, do better and be kinder to each other.”
For more information on Project Reach Out, go to www.alohalegion.org or call Makela Bruno-Kidani at 937-9699.