Hometown Heroes: ’Keiki Heroes’ empower youth to stay healthy during COVID

  • Jake Au, a college student at Drexel University, who is home in Hilo for the summer, worked with Gum Design for graphic design and website development. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Jake Au, a college student at Drexel University, who is home in Hilo for the summer, worked with Gum Design for graphic design and website development. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Keiki Heroes” campaign is empowering keiki to adopt healthy practices in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.


Since launching in mid-August, the Keiki Heroes team has been distributing posters and flyers free of charge to elementary schools, public libraries, community organizations, and local businesses across Hawaii Island. Grounded in kindness and compassion, the project aims to educate keiki on how to adopt healthy practices to keep themselves, their classmates, teachers, ohana, and community safe.

Keiki Heroes is a Hawaii STEM Community Care project that encourages keiki to adopt healthy habits, to recognize signs and symptoms of illness, and to inform an adult when they are feeling ill. The project emphasizes that they can be heroes by helping to protect those who care for them.

Keiki Heroes’ first round of materials focuses on three key concepts: how to wear a mask properly, when to wash hands, and how to be a Keiki Hero. The materials introduce two keiki “superheroes,” Kai and Hoku, who empower local keiki to do what they can to protect themselves and others in these turbulent times. In subsequent phases of the campaign, they will also present easy to remember mottos and sing songs to enhance memory for younger keiki.

Keiki Heroes’ messages align with state Department of Health’s guidelines and support the Department of Education’s reopening school guidance. Working in partnership with local pediatrician Dr. Craig Burger, the grassroots team of volunteers has worked on this project for several months to fill a gap that currently exists in information about COVID-19 preparedness: targeted communication for keiki.

“When our community is strong and healthy, we all benefit. Keiki Heroes is a way to help our keiki and their families understand how they can help keep themselves and keep their family safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Targeted teaching to children in a way they understand, is an effective way to empower them, lower anxiety, and educate their parents and families,” said Burger.

Local artist and author Yuko Green created the art that incorporates Hawaiian cultural symbols and relatable characters, bringing Kai and Hoku to life. Jake Au, a college student at Drexel University, who is home in Hilo for the summer, worked with Christian Engelhardt of Gum Design, for graphic design and website development.

“I volunteered to work on the Keiki Heroes project because I believe it’s going to make a huge difference for teachers, students, and families. I wanted to help school staff like my mom and students like my three younger sisters feel they have some level of control when returning to school,” said Jake Au. “This project and the people involved have provided me with an internship experience that I never could have imagined when I came home last spring.”

The project is funded by sponsorship from the Hawaii Island community, ensuring the materials are available free of charge to schools, businesses and community organizations. In the next phase of the Keiki Heroes project, the team plans to add more to their website, launch islandwide public service announcements, create videos and expand to meet the ever changing needs of Hawaii Island educators.

Community sponsors includes Canada France Hawaii Telescope, East Asian Observatory, Engineering Partners, LLC, Gum Design, Hawaii Science and Technology Museum, Keck Observatory, Lex Brodie’s Tires, Okahara and Associates, Inc., SSFM International, The Success Factory – NexTech Hawaii, UH Institute for Astronomy, Hawaiian Electric and The Waikoloa Foundation.

“As a foundation supporting educational opportunities for our community, we were excited by Keiki Heroes’ solution to reducing COVID-19 risk at schools,” said Cary Boeddeker of the Waikoloa Foundation. “We are passionate about raising awareness and increasing access for Hawaii Island educators to use this curriculum to help keep our community safe.”


For more information, visit www.keikiheroes.org.

Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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