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'We never give up on them’: Adult Friends for Youth marks 34 years of helping turn lives around

Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 5:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Malakai Maumalanga is known as “Mo” to the high-risk adolescents and teens he works with at Adult Friends for Youth.

The 43-year-old carries the title of director of re-directional services. He know how to connect with teens who could easily descend into a life of gang violence and crime.

“I think we’re able to navigate some of the issues that they go through. I think at the end of the day the kids understand that we’re there for them,” Maumalanga said.

As a teenager, he fell deep into crime, drugs and gang violence. At 18, he was arrested in connection with a drive-by shooting.

“My violence was the way I dealt with issues,” he said.

AFY helped him realize he was heading in the wrong direction, like it’s done for thousands of youth in the islands. Through counseling, education and persistence. the non-profit steers them away from destructive behavior.

“They are the kids most people have said there’s no opportunity, no chance. They are pretty much people have given up on, and we never give up on them,” said Debbie Spencer-Chun, the non-profit’s president and CEO.

AFY meets troubled teens on their turf and challenges them to make something of their lives. Spencer-Chun said the organization’s success rate is higher than 80%.

“This is what we aspire them to be, to be doing something positive,” she said.

Because of AFY’s efforts, Maumalanga got on the right track, completed college and earned a master’s degree. He’s a husband and father ― and a mentor for kids to follow.

“Somebody gave me a chance when I was in their shoes,” he said.

On Nov. 27, Adult Friends for Youth will celebrate its 34th anniversary by holding a virtual fundraiser from the Sheraton Waikiki.

“We’re hoping that people will really join and support us,” Spencer-Chun said.

“These kids all they want is help,” Maumalanga said. “By supporting Adult Friends for Youth everybody can help.”

To learn more about the organization and its upcoming fundraiser, go to to AFYafyhawaii.com.

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