Where’s your data, Where’s your evidence, How do you know you are making a difference, How do you know it works, How long will it take??? – The famous questions we get asked all the time. Yes, they are very important. As we find ourselves in roundtable discussions with some of the best ʻāina based programs in the state, we find we are not the only ones struggling to answer these important questions. We wish we had a way to effectively document eye contact, body posture, self-esteem, hope, peace, security, confidence…Easy to tell you how many acres we’ve restored, how many weeds we’ve pulled, how much kalo we produce, how much poi we make. But lives changed? That’s a bit tricky.

Dean and I had a theory 15 years ago that if we created a space for the community to gather and connect, we could help challenged youth get their lives back on track and families heal broken relationships. Many funders are trusting in this theory. Does it work? Well, we see the small signs every day: The small light bulbs that go off, the rare moments of deep connection in the loʻi, the change in language, the relaxing of body posture, the eye contact, the words of respect, the joy, the dreams, the transformation. Could we prove it in a document or in a boardroom? Probably not. At least not for now. We are determined to find a way. Until then, hopefully, you can see some of the evidence in the expressions caught on camera or hear it in some of the stories we tell. Or maybe you have volunteered on a Saturday and witnessed it first hand.

We are still trying to find meaningful and relevant tools to measure impact and change. There have been many suggestions and great professional advice about validated surveys, life skills assessments, interviews, journaling…It’s all good stuff. But none of it seems to really capture the essence of our program or the amazing kids we are working with. Sometimes it feels like we are pulling teeth. Other times it feels like we are talking right out our hind end. Ask Cassie, our program coordinator. She will tell you the many ways and means we have tried to gather data and turn it into something meaningful. We have a great team and are determined to keep working until we are satisfied with the result.

One tool in development is our video voice project. We want the kids in our Kūkuluhou mentoring program to speak for themselves through a variety of expressions. They can write, draw, talk, take photos or produce videos. The sky is the limit. In December we passed out cameras and gave them the freedom to answer a question by telling their own story. Our first lesson was Nani Ke Kalo – a core value we teach to model aloha and respect for oneself and one another. Cassie has been working diligently with our youth who visit once a week teaching them the basics of photography and film. She then helps them to tie it all together in a short video. Below is an example of one of the first completed projects and we are pretty excited about the direction this new tool is taking. We continue to evolve and learn many lessons along the way. But as Dean says all the time, it’s the journey, not the destination that is important.