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AFY CEO Debbie Spencer-Chun (Beyond the Lines)

May 3, 2023

We talk with Debbie about the various ways Adult Friends For Youth are helping high risk youth by providing educational support, counseling, tutoring, and access to technology to ensure that seniors graduate high school and prepare for future opportunities.

Improving Hawaii's Health - Hawaii Business Magazine

August 10, 2022

Creating Positive Pathways

With a mission to stop violence and create a peaceful community, Adult Friends for Youth serves 600 kids who voluntarily joined its programs on O‘ahu.

Empowering the Future - Hawaii Business Magazine

October 4, 2021

Since 1986, AFY has been providing high-risk Hawai‘i youth who are engaged in violent behaviors, especially bullying, with positive intervention and redirection to foster safe communities where all keiki can succeed. 

Column: For more peaceful community, teach kids to reject violence

July 9, 2020

Adult Friends for Youth (AFY) knows this all too well. For 36 years we have worked tirelessly to stop violence in schools and communities.

Outreach critical for runaway youth; tracking varies by county

June 30, 2020

Missing and runaway kids are getting a lot of community attention on Hawaii Island, but the numbers on Oahu are far larger, and the public won’t usually know the names and faces to look for elsewhere. Always Investigating looks at the runaway problem on all islands.

“Oahu is such a large metro city that there are so many things going on people overlook,” said Lisa Tamashiro with Adult Friends for Youth, a social service agency that handles a program started just last fall for HPD’s District 8 — Ewa to Makaha — the area with the most runaway cases on Oahu.

Most of us won’t know the names or faces to keep a watch for because the Honolulu Police Department doesn’t publicize every name like the Big Island. HPD tells KHON2: “News releases are generally issued by CrimeStoppers and only with a family member or guardian’s consent.”

With school campuses closed, non-profit finds innovative ways to help at-risk youth

May 12, 2020

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - With public school campuses closed, a non-profit group is working hard to make sure that at-risk youth don’t fall through the cracks. Adult Friends for Youth usually does outreach at schools and in the community at places like parks. The group is now finding new ways to make sure that students stay motivated and have access to help.


Moanalua High School student Cross Senen got involved with the organization in middle school. The 15-year-old sophomore said his grades have improved since then."I was getting in trouble, like fighting and stuff, and then my mom them decided that I needed help," said Senen.

Employees interact with hundreds of intermediate and high school students from Waianae to Kaimuki each week. With school campuses closed, they’re now driving children to the organization’s office where computers are available.

“It would be hard because I wouldn’t have anybody to help me and no more wi-fi at home,” said Rynext Manex, a senior at Farrington High School.

At annual conference, students use acceptance and respect to battle bullying

March 2, 2020

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the third year straight year, CrimeStoppers partnered with Adult Friends for Youth on Monday to host an annual conference with a very specific mission: educating thousands of Hawaii keiki about the impact bullying has on others.


The program encourages the children to follow the anti-bullying acronym P.E.A.R.L.: Peace, Empathy, Acceptance, Respect and Love. Using the acronym as a guide, CrimeStoppers has created a proactive avenue for students to report bullying to help create safer campuses.

“A lot of times these kids are afraid of retaliation and repercussions or being known as a ‘rat’ or a ‘snitch,’ but with the CrimeStoppers program they can report it to us, anonymously, and we can work with the school or HPD to fix the situation,” said Chris Kim, sergeant of CrimeStoppers Honolulu.

Monday’s conference included skits performed by AFY students, VIP speakers and the presentation of the PEARL Hero Awards. Along with discussions about preventing violence and bullying, the program also has a focus on social media safety.

'I want to go to college': Homeless youth gather to talk about their dreams — and challenges

April 11, 2018

KALIHI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Most people can only imagine what it's like to be homeless, much less what it's like to be a child and living on the streets.

That's why 60 homeless youth from Wahiawa, Waipahu and Kalihi came together Wednesday to put their lives on display for service providers and lawmakers.

Kaimiola Sykap said homeless youth need to know "they are not alone."

With the help of Adult Friends for Youth, Sykap got off the streets, graduated from high school, and now has a job and a place to stay.  She and others shared their personal stories of life inside an encampment.

"It was like racist yea. Micronesians over here. Samoans, Hawaiians, Filipinos on this side," said Sykap. "In the middle of our sleep they would try to beat us up."

Bullying survivor tells Hawaii students: Standing by quietly is no solution

March 5, 2018

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Through a mix of humor and some serious skits Adult Friends for Youth attacked bullying from a personal perspective during a conference for kids at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Nineteen-year-old Hans Hanis was bullied when he was in the sixth-grade.

"I'm a bullying survivor. It was mainly the seventh-graders and eighth-graders and a couple high schoolers. They came after me, stomped on me, hit me," he said.

About 2,000 elementary school students heard his story at Monday's presentation while 2,000 middle-school students got it last week. They were all asked to raise their hands if they've been bullied.

"Almost every single hand goes up. They close their eyes and they raise their hands when they're asked the question. We know the kids are dealing with this on a regular basis," said AFY's Debbie Spencer-Chun.

Community Connection: Adult Friends for Youth

June 3, 2015

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Adult Friends for Youth (AFY) strongly believes in helping "at risk" children and youth, "Believe that they Matter", and that their lives are meaningful, strengthened with a purpose and potential to achieve success.

AFY is committed to promoting safe schools and safe communities by redirecting destructive behaviors into constructive behaviors through advocacy, relationship building, nurturing, and mentoring.

One of AFY's most valuable components is the implementation of their six point plan, which is designed to help youth develop self-confidence, knowledge, self-Esteem, and the drive and perseverance to experience success and eventually for them to become productive and contributing members of society. The six point plan includes: education, employment & careers, recreation & sports, culture, community service, and social activities.

Gang Gone

July 06, 2011

Adult Friends for Youth’s unique way of dealing with entire gangs rather than individuals serves as a national model, and has led to more than 30 Hawaii gangs disbanding.


Hawaii is not California, and Kalihi is not South Central L.A. Yet, like our West Coast neighbors, Oahu has its share of gang activity and crime. There are, for example, about 20 gangs operating at Farrington High School, and a similar number at Waipahu High School. While our problems may pale in comparison to those of other states, it doesn’t mean these issues don’t exist, nor does it mean we should be complacent.

One group of individuals is far from complacent: Adult Friends for Youth. Founded by Sidney M. Rosen in 1985 at the University of Hawaii School of Social Work, AFY began as a volunteer mentoring program for at-risk children and adolescents. Eventually the organization was incorporated as a nonprofit, and has been independent of UH since 1987.

Right from the start, Adult Friends for Youth was different from other groups in the community.

Special report: youth gangs in Hawaii

May 23, 2011

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Do you think that Hawaii has a street gang problem? You might be surprised by how many street gangs law enforcement officers recently identified across the state.

One agency working with youth gang members says its efforts have helped to reduce violent gang activity in recent years. But the group says that's led to complacency by those who feel Hawaii doesn't have a gang problem.

Mo Maumalanga greets people at Kanoa Park with a smile and a handshake. He asks them if they're staying out of trouble. He asks them if they need anything.

"Just love helping in general," he said. "But that's way different from what I was back then."

Back then, as a gang member trying to maintain his street cred, Maumalanga went after anyone who challenged him.

"For us, we didn't see living past 18," he said. "So it was either me or them."

Students get another chance

September 13, 2009

Just two days after a speech by President Obama telling students that there's "no excuse for not trying" to get an education, 10 former high-risk students demonstrated their perseverance by collecting hard-earned high school diplomas in front of a crowd of tearful family and friends at McCoy Pavilion.

The graduates — former gang members, high school dropouts and drug addicts — spent January through September in the Adult Friends for Youth Clinical Competency Based High School Diploma Program (C-BASE), run through the Farrington Community School for Adults.

"AFY works with the highest-risk kids," said AFY president Deborah Spencer-Chun. "The kids that cannot function and have no other alternative but to leave school, we take them into our program. A lot of them see this as their last chance, an opportunity for them to move on."

While there are several C-BASE programs in the state, AFY's is the only one to incorporate clinical therapy into students' study of community resources, con-sumer economics, occupa-tional knowledge, govern-ment and law, and health, the group said.

Reaching at-risk kids

May 23, 2011

Adult Friends for Youth is more than a job for Malakai Maumalanga.

“It has become a passion for me…I want to keep working with high-risk kids,” he says. He has spent five years with the nonprofit organization, which provides therapy and mentoring for children at risk of gang involvement, drug use or other unhealthy lifestyles.

Launched in 1985 as a volunteer mentoring program in the University of Hawaiʻi’s School of Social Work, Adult Friends for Youth uses a redirectional method to mold destructive behaviors into socially appropriate ones.

Maumalanga participates in activities designed to reach at-risk kids, including student conventions, teen fathers groups, parenting classes and fundraisers.

Maumalanga’s drive stems from his life-changing experience as a former client after going to prison for involvement in a drive-by shooting. He understands what at-risk kids encounter and wants to help them.

Youth Group Uses Rugby To Teach Kids

March 23, 2008

WAIKIKI (KHNL) -- Mix soccer and football, and you get rugby, which can be a tough sport.

But one youth group is using it to teach kids a little bit more than how to take a hit.

The action can get rough, but rugby is a welcome release.

"I like it good, because that's where I can show my anger, let it out on the field," said Jimmy Robinson. "Hurts and bruises other people, but good fun though."

It's the annual Adult Friends for Youth 7's rugby tournament. It was started by AFY's vice president in 2005.

"Rugby is one thing, but it's really about bringing communities closer together," said McKay Schwenke. "It's about bringing kids to talk about sportsmanship, camaraderie, and really just to have a great day and enjoy themselves."

And it's working, keeping these kids out of trouble.

Gang Experts Warn About Increasing Gang Activity in Kalihi

May 14, 2007

KALIHI (KHNL) - 20 years ago Sid Rosen walked away from his job as a professor of social work and started, "Adult Friends for Youth".

Since then counselors from this group have intervened with members of 32 Hawaii gangs.

Now as Rosen announces his retirement, he fears a surge in gang activity at some schools on Oahu.

In the mid 90's rival Kalihi gangs turned violent. Sid Rosen RECALLS, "It was 1995 when a couple of boys got murdered from Kuhio Park Terrace".

For gang members it was an eye for an eye, until...

"I believe very strongly that the staff of Adult Friends for Youth working with these groups was a very powerful influence in bringing these ugly gang wars to an end," says Rosen.

Former Local Gang Leader Earns Masters Degree At U.H.

May 14, 2007

MANOA (KHNL) - The University of Hawaii graduates earning advanced degrees all have bright futures.

But it's the past of one such student that makes him so remarkable.

In the mid 90's Kalihi was torn apart by two powerful rival gangs. Violence escalated as members of the Cross Sun battled a turf war and gang leader Malakai Maumalanga was entrenched.

His counselor Deb Spencer-Chun explains, "When I met Malakai he was 13 years-old, heavily involved with gangs and very angry, very violent."

Malakai Maumalanga admits, "At 18 I went to prison for a drive-by shooting and I think about it now, it's been a long long journey."

That journey takes him to the stage to receive a masters degree in social work. "I didn't realize how far I came until right after finals then I realized I'm getting my masters."

Organization Helps At-Risk Youths Find A Way Out of Gangs

March 21, 2007

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Gang violence is noticeably increasing at public high schools and now, the group "Adult Friends for Youth" is trying to do something about the problem.

As a gang member in the 1980's, Malakai Maumalanga knows first hand the consequences of joining a gang.

"I ended up in prison for a drive by shooting, those days were real hectic, violence wasn't an option, it was a way of life," said A.F.Y.member Malakai Maumalanga.

Now a member of A.F.Y., Malakai understands that leaving a gang is not simple, members often face retribution. A.F.Y. focuses on groups, not individuals.

"We try to change the whole group as a whole, so they don't have to feel the pressure of, he's trying to do good, his friends are doing bad, and move the group towards a positive."

A.F.Y. held a rally at the state capitol, and spoke to lawmakers about getting back funds that were taken away from the program that has helped so many.

Same Turf, New Outlook

March 21, 2007

MALAKAI "Mo" Maumalanga has a hard time hiding what he used to be. Although he ended his gang-banger lifestyle in 1996 and is working on a master's degree in social work, his past often comes back to haunt him.

At times the young clients Maumalanga counsels will recognize his name. Others tell stories of the giant who ruled the streets engaging in street fights, drive-by shootings, stealing, gambling, drugs, drinking, gas bombings, racketeering and harassment -- not knowing that he is that giant.

"I thought my life would be gangs and prisons," Maumalanga said. "I never expected to live past 18."

But he broke free. Where violence and fear were once his expectations, goal-setting, education and peace have became the new standards.

Maumalanga now lives with a sense of purpose, working on the streets and in schools with kids headed down the same road he was, many years ago.

Grads hope to make most of second chance

August 18, 2006

Eugene Tumbaga adjusted the purple orchid lei around his neck, savoring his moment in the limelight.

But it was also bittersweet for the 23-year-old father of two, who stood clutching his new high school diploma during graduation ceremonies last night at McCoy Pavilion at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Every year, competency-based high school diploma programs like the one from which Tumbaga graduated offer a second chance to hundreds of high school dropouts who want to chart a different future.

"For them it's an enormous accomplishment," said Sid Rosen, who heads Adult Friends for Youth. The counseling agency is among several community agencies that offer the C-based program to young people who have struggled with school in the past.

Giving Hope and Alternatives to Kids

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Deborah Spencer-Chun has the deep-seated belief that “Kids can change no matter what level of trouble they get into.”

That’s the philosophy that drives her and her nonprofit organization, Adult Friends for Youth. “We believe that given the opportunity, they will make changes in their lives,” she says.

“We’re not a short-term program, we’re long-term. The length of time we work with any group averages three to four years. And sometimes it’s longer, four to six years. It depends on where they are and what help they need.”

AFY and its small group of social workers operate out of a labyrinth of offices in a building flanked by the H1 Airport Viaduct. They also work in some of Oahu’s toughest neighborhoods, like the Kalihi housing projects of Kuhio Park Terrace and along Kamehameha IV Road.

Guests Starring in the Jessica Lani Rich Show
Deborah Spencer-Chun, President & CEO
Malakai "Mo"Maumalanga, Director of Redirectional Services

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