Lehua Kaopio

Christina O’Connor photo

When Lehua Kaopio was 13, her foster mom took her to an event through Kids Hurt Too, a nonprofit that aims to support and empower foster children, children of divorce and youths who have lost a parent. Kaopio was one of six foster children during her adolescent years – and as the only one of the six without a learning or developmental disability, her foster parents relied on her for help.

“Because we were all foster children, we had all gone through some form of trauma or grief, and she thought it was good for us to come meet other kids and participate in the activities,” Kaopio says.

Although Kaopio admits she initially was “dragged there,” she quickly grew to enjoy going to events and support meetings through the organization. As a young teenager, Kaopio participated in activities with the group, including paddling, surfing, arts and crafts and more.

“It was really good because it was an opportunity to get to know people who were just like me,” Kaopio says. “We would always find other foster kids, so we could all relate to one another.”

Over the years, Kaopio transitioned from program participant to volunteer. When she was 16, she was voted onto the board of Hawaii Youth Foster Coalition, which supports children in the foster system and is affiliated with Kids Hurt Too. Since then, she has been working at various events with both groups, helping to set up activities and playing with the kids.

“It is a really cool program,” Kaopio says. “What they try to do is create a curriculum where the child begins to mend and heal.

“It is an area where you can be safe with your feelings, and it can be safe to share. For kids, that can be harder, because they don’t know how to express themselves. So through these different activities, they will be able to do that.”

After graduating from Kamehameha Schools in 2011, Kaopio went on to attend Kapiolani Community College, where she currently is studying liberal arts. Recently, she also completed a Kids Hurt Too training program that will enable her to facilitate groups. She is excited to get more involved with the organizations and work more closely with the kids.

“Seeing these kids at their happiest moments really makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside,” Kaopio says. “You see a bigger smile every time (on the kids). They are super excited to come to events, and so are the parents.”

For more information about Kids Hurt Too and Hawaii Youth Foster Coalition, visit kidshurttoo.org and kukuicenter.org/hawaii-foster-youth-coalition.