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June 3, 2015

Around the Square: Lanai Youth Center

Photo of Lanai children participating in activity at Lanai Youth Center.

When the last bell rings at Lanai High and Elementary School, students pack up and go their separate ways — to sports practice, after-school activities or home to study. Many head to Lanai Youth Center (LYC), a popular hangout for children and teens to unwind, socialize and get help on schoolwork.

A longstanding community facility that initially started as a drug-free place for Lanai youth to gather, LYC has transformed into a full-fledged program offering a variety of services to kids of all ages.

“Our main mission is to provide a safe place for Lanai’s children,” said Bonita Sandi, the center’s new executive director. “They know they can come here to learn, create new things and have fun with friends.”

On any given weekday afternoon, children can get help with homework, play with iPads or board games, or take part in any one of the center’s daily activities. Just this month, they enjoyed making selfies on Minecraft, creating Aboriginal dot paintings and learning how to stay safe during grad party season.

New executive director provides new opportunities for LYC

When Sandi moved to Lanai from Oahu 20 years ago, she recalls the initial feeling of having nothing to do and nowhere to go. “It was a younger mentality,” she said with a laugh. “When I was new to Lanai, I felt like I didn’t have enough choices or excitement. It took me a little while to figure out that we create our own opportunities and activities for our children.”

That’s what LYC is all about. A look at the monthly calendar shows a jam-packed schedule of crafts, snacks, homework time, physical fitness and more. Also on the agenda, once-a-week sessions with a focus on prevention, character building, leadership and staying safe.

“Basically, we try to give them the tools they need in order to make good choices about their health and well-being,” said Sandi.

She’s no stranger to connecting with kids on this level. As a former LHES health nurse, 2013 and 2015 class advisor (for her daughter and son’s senior classes), and church youth group leader, Sandi has always been involved in volunteer roles that support her four children, their friends and peers.

As the center’s new executive director, she feels lucky to be able to continue working with youth as part of her job.

It takes a community to raise a child

Sandi remembers what it was like to be a teenager on Oahu. “It’s a key point in your life — you’re trying to find yourself, and one decision could impact the direction you end up taking,” she said. “I always had someone to guide me throughout my youth to make sure I took the right path, and I believe it’s important for kids to have that, too.”

She acknowledges that it can often be hard for working parents to be available right after school. “This is our opportunity to be a support to families. I truly believe it takes a community to raise a child. We can all look out for our keiki and show them we care.”

Lanai Youth Center is open from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. and membership is free. Any child on Lanai is welcome to take advantage of its services.

Parents looking to volunteer their time helping staff with hands-on activities can call Bonita Sandi at 565-7675. The center also gratefully accepts donations of arts and crafts items, as well as paper goods and other supplies for its summer program.

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