Volunteers and participants of Paddling with Aloha paddled in Keauhou Bay and back to the beach Wednesday morning. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to WHT)
Alan Bautista gets some assistance in getting into a double-hulled canoe from volunteers during Paddling with Aloha at Keauhou Bay Wednesday morning. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to WHT)
With help from Kawika Souza of Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors, 17-year-old Hakani Suzuki settles into a double-hulled canoe during Paddling with Aloha at Keauhou Bay Wednesday morning. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to WHT)
An activity available to the participants during Paddling with Aloha was a food art table. Kent Doyle creates a snack with graham crackers, marshmallows and frosting as Michael Bajadali, a Mana Olana HOPE Inc. life coach, watches and provides encouragement. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to WHT)
The immense freedom, rush and satisfaction of paddling in the ocean are feelings watermen know well.
Roughly 40 volunteers from Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors, Halona’s Ocean Tours, Anelakai Adventures and the Hawaii County Fire Department helped people with disabilities know that same thrill Wednesday morning in Keauhou Bay.
After paddling in a double-hulled canoe to the mouth of the bay and back to shore, Casey Haydon and Quentin Wong were so excited about their adventure that the friends jumped into the water, swam around briefly and then did a little jig on the sand. The Full Life participants couldn’t stop smiling when revealing tidbits about their short excursion to Learning Center Director Marci Michalicek, which included splashing each other, putting water in the boat and singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
For 30-year-old Haydon, paddling was “pretty good” and “more fun than recycling boxes,” the task the Learning Center originally had planned for Wednesday. He also said the event was about “happiness,” not just for him, but everyone. Haydon, who also participates in Special Olympics West Hawaii, thinks sports such as paddling are important because it keeps his body in shape.
Through sign language and joyful expression, 20-year-old Wong explained he was smiling because it’s fun paddling and being photographed.
Wong and Haydon were among the more than a dozen members of Mana Olana HOPE Inc. and Full Life who benefited from the free community event, Paddling with Aloha.
Full Life is a nonprofit organization that assists in the empowerment of people with developmental disabilities by enabling them to achieve and enjoy a self-determined quality of life. Its learning center in Kainaliu implements a highly individualized curriculum that embraces each person’s ideas and choices in their learning goals. The program includes socialization, community integration, skills training and camaraderie in an intimate setting, Michalicek said.
The mission of Mana Olana HOPE Inc. is to encourage and inspire the disabled and their families to develop a vision of hope, to believe that all things are possible. Over the past four years, the not-for-profit organization has supported its members in creating positive resolutions and strategies for life challenges, as well as help them achieve spiritual, emotional and physical fulfillment. It offers workshops that maximize the potential of participants and focus on self-determined goals. Family strengthening retreats, events and support networks are also offered, said founder Trish Doyle.
Kailua-Kona resident Marcia Suzuki said this was the first time her 17-year-old daughter, Hakani, had paddled. Seeing Hakani’s bravery and outgoing manner made her heart swell with pride and delight. Suzuki knew her daughter felt safe, accepted and encouraged. Through involvement with Mana Olana HOPE Inc., Suzuki has witnessed Hakani blossom; she said experiences like the one Wednesday give Hakani hope that she can do anything. Paddling with Aloha also provides precious moments for families to relax and bond, for which she expressed gratitude.
Paddling with Aloha is part of an annual program that provides ocean recreation for people with disabilities who have a desire to enter the water. It seeks to make the beaches and ocean more accessible; share Hawaiian sports; provide therapeutic instruction by certified professionals and experienced watermen possessing “the aloha spirit;” and help the disabled pursue outdoor activities in a safe and positive environment, said Keahi Robins, program founder and Mana Olana HOPE Inc.’s Hawaiian consultant.
“It’s like Christmas; the presents are the miles of smiles,” he said. “All of the organizers and volunteers have been touched by someone with unique needs. This event is straight from their hearts. It’s a chance to support our community and share the ocean, which is life, a gift, and therapy for the body and soul.”
For Capt. Rick Green, Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors owner, Wednesday was not just about paddling and instilling a love for the ocean.
It was helping the participants recognize there isn’t anything they cannot do or experience. It’s about focusing on abilities, not disabilities, he said.
Green said he and his employees come back year after year because it feels good to give back; continue to build on the trust and skills; and see the confidence grow. But also, the smiles on the faces are “irreplaceable.”