A Labor of Love

Planned Youth Shelter Promises Nurturing Home for Teens in Crisis.

Through the generosity and compassion of two local philanthropists, Maui’s at-risk youth will soon have a safe haven to escape to in times of crisis. 

Kindred souls are often drawn to one another by a common cause, and for Genesis and Sulara, it was a love of peace and a desire to make the world a better place that bound their hearts together. From this union of empathetic souls was born the Teran James Young Foundation, a Maui-based philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting a peaceful, sustainable way of living. 

Genesis Young and Sulara James want to help Maui’s at-risk youth. Photo by Dan Collins

The Founders

Genesis is Dr. Scott Young, a Canadian-born plastic surgeon who moved to Hawaii from Ashland, Oregon ten years ago with his wife, Sulara James, with the intention of retiring. James had received generous endowments from her family—her father was Robert James, founder of the multi-billion-dollar Florida investment banking and financial services company Raymond James Financial, Inc.—and she wanted to share her good fortune with the people of Maui. So, together the couple began to look for ways to benefit the community. 

“I’m blessed to have had an amazing father who became very successful,” said James. “Just a really incredibly beautiful, giving, benevolent person who was very generous and loving.” In the interest of giving credit where it is due, James points out that her brother, Thomas James, took the helm from their father in 1970, at age 27, and spent the next 40 years growing the firm into the global banking giant that it is today.

The Foundation

The charitable foundation that Young and James co-founded has four main branches which are interrelated: Maluhia Mediation (a dispute resolution service), Restorative Justice (an alternative way to resolve criminal cases between victim, offender, and community), NVC NextGen (which teaches nonviolent communication and conflict resolution skills to youth) and the Hale Pono at-risk youth shelter. (Hale means “house,” and pono means “righteous,” “fair,” or “in balance.”) They also coordinate the Maui branch of an international peer-to-peer suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength. 

The couple named the foundation for their son, Teran James Young, who passed away moments after his birth, 28 years ago. James, a mother of three from a prior marriage who now has three grandchildren living on the U.S. Mainland, has never forgotten that heartbreaking moment. “On the day of his birth, he opened his eyes and looked at Genesis with infinite love and closed them and never took a breath,” she recalled, wistfully. “So, he’s very much with us in everything we do.”

The idea to create the youth shelter arose out of a meeting at the county courthouse attended by Young. The quarterly gatherings, dubbed “kulike” meetings (which means “to agree”), were the brainchild of Second Circuit District Family Judge Adrianne Heely. They focused on youth issues, bringing together representatives from the Department of Education, the police department, prosecutors, public defenders, members of the judiciary, and leaders of various NGOs. The meeting format usually involved a guest speaker, followed by questions, discussion, and networking among the participants. 

“One day, about four years ago, the guest speaker didn’t show up,” Young recalled, “so Judge Heely said, ‘Okay, well, why don’t we just go around the room and ask everybody what do we need in Maui County?,’ and I swear 80 percent of the people said that they don’t have a youth shelter. They have long-term housing—foster care and so on—but no short-term shelter for when the kids are in trouble until they’re placed or, hopefully, get their family situation resolved.”

The Problem

When police encounter a “status offense” like being a runaway—which only juveniles can commit—they don’t currently have many options. “It’s either put them in jail, or take them back to the family they were running from, and of course that’s probably not going to go well, at least not initially when everybody is still hot,” said Young. “Maybe in the light of day, but this usually happens at night.”

So, he explained, what MPD tends to do is have one officer sit with the troubled teen in the police station until morning, when they can get social services together and meet with the parents. “It’s just a huge waste of taxpayer money to have a police officer babysitting a child for that reason,” he points out. “The other option is to put them in a cell by themselves or with other offenders who weren’t kids, and they’re not going to do that.” 

In the absence of a facility on Maui, sometimes children needing longer-term assistance have been shipped off to a state-run shelter on Oahu. Maui authorities call the shelter ahead of time to make arrangements and then put the juvenile on an inter-island flight. But on more than one occasion, wires got crossed and when the kid showed up at the shelter door, they were turned away, leaving them stranded and homeless in Honolulu, isolated from family and friends. “Can you imagine? Oh, my God!” recounts Young. “So I said, ‘We have to do something.’”

“What we’re all about is service,” James explains. “That’s all I care about, really. That’s why we’re here on Maui.” James has been a licensed massage therapist since 1979 and is a prolific self-published author whose first children’s book recently found a publisher. 

David Litman, MD, will supervise day-to-day operations of the shelter once construction is completed. Photo by Dan Collins

“I do everything by inspiration, I don’t plan it. Like with this shelter,” she continues. “When Genesis came home and told me that they said there was this need for a shelter, that was it. I said, ‘That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s our next work that we’re supposed to do together.’ 

“We’re guided by Spirit. We always consult Spirit and we follow our guidance which is made very clear to us,” she asserts. “I find, in my life, every time we follow Spirit it’s always the right thing.”

The Solution

There was general agreement that the youth shelter project should be privately funded, rather than run by a state agency, because things quickly become complicated when tax dollars are involved. 

A task force was formed to explore the idea, which included Young, as well as representatives from the judiciary, the police department, Maui Youth and Family Services, and other NGOs, such as the Salvation Army and Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui. 

Paul Tonnessen, director of FCJCM, tipped them off that the building at 1727 Wili Pa Loop might be up for sale, just a few doors down from his own offices near the Wailuku Post Office. Young and James liked that it was located near the hospital, police station, social agencies, and schools, yet not in the middle of a residential neighborhood where it might have met with resistance. The foundation’s vans will provide transportation to school and other activities. 

Young and James bought the building and hired Pili Design + Build in Wailuku to draw up and complete renovations, which involved adding fire sprinklers, moving walls to create both single and common rooms, removing doors so that staff can see what’s going on at all times, and adding ceilings so that residents can’t sneak from room to room, unseen. 

A video monitoring system will help staff oversee resident activity and one-way locks will be installed on exterior doors that allow the residents to leave, but lock once they are outside. (Residents can leave of their own accord, but parents and authorities will be notified.) They’re also adding an ADA-compliant bedroom and bathroom. 

Clients of the shelter will be allowed to remain there for 30 days, hopefully giving them enough time to resolve their situation or be placed in foster care. They plan to welcome anyone age 12-17 who is in a crisis situation. The only qualification for entry is that the youth must to be able to perform basic self-care—meaning clean, wash, dress, and feed themselves—and not be a danger to themselves or others. Smoking and vaping will be prohibited for both residents and staff.

Parents are notified of their child’s admission to the facility and must give their consent if the child is to remain at the shelter. If circumstances warrant it, relevant authorities may be contacted, as well. They expect that some, if not all, of their clients will be dropped off by police or referred by the courts.

To operate the facility, the foundation will need to acquire a Child Care Institution permit issued by Child Welfare Services (CWS), which they anticipate being fairly straightforward, compared to the lengthy process of securing the necessary building permits. 

The Program Director

David Litman was selected as the shelter’s program director because of his counseling background, experience with nonviolent communication, and his compassionate and caring nature, the couple said. He is a longtime friend of Young’s through their mutual involvement in the ManKind Project, a global network of men’s groups focused on personal growth through exploring masculinity. Litman has an MA in Psychology and is currently pursuing his marriage and family therapist’s license. 

“We’re going to have significant training going on all the time to really ensure that [staff members] know how to manage conflict, how to work with trauma, how to be a safe resource for the children,” assured Litman. The foundation’s offices, downstairs from the shelter, will house community outreach, drop-in services, and a conference room for collaborative meetings.

Rob Baur of Baur Pacific Builders oversees construction of the shelter in Wailuku. Photo by Dan Collins

“I see us as a hub for services, pointing them to resources,” said Litman, adding that he’s already learned a great deal about existing youth programs available in the community and he’s happy to guide people to them if they contact the foundation. 

The Staff

Litman anticipates hiring 15 to 20 staff members before the shelter opens. “We don’t want anyone to ever be alone with a child, so we have to have at least three people in the building at any particular time,” he explained. “I’m really nervous about [hiring staff] because of the ‘great resignation’ and all. But I hope a program like this, that’s mission-involved or service-involved, will attract the right people.”

“The ideal candidate will have both the right attitude and experience, but as long as they come in with the right attitude and really, truly care about children, I can train them on the rest,” he said. All employees must undergo a federal background check and be approved by CWS.

“We know that, from a trauma point of view, if you don’t have any love being experienced in your life, you’re likely to end up in prison,” said Young. “So, hopefully this will interrupt that school-to-prison pipeline. And the trauma research shows that you only need one supportive adult in your life—it doesn’t even have to be the same one, it can be a serial set of them—but that one supportive adult in your life at any given time is a major factor in resilience, in bouncing back from trauma.”

The Goal

Litman stresses that this won’t be a treatment facility. If kids show up under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they will be referred elsewhere to detox before they can be admitted to the shelter. 

“Hopefully we’ll bring more peace to the world by providing shelter for youth who are in trouble so they don’t end up in the sex trade, or drug addicted,” Young added.

James feels that creating a nurturing, loving experience is the most important thing they can offer. “Healing is based on love. And if children were honored, respected and loved as the incredible spirits they are, we wouldn’t have all these problems.”

The couple hope to open their doors within a year, but that depends on how quickly the contractor completes construction. “We’re pretty sure it’ll take less time than it took to get the permit to complete the renovations,” James jokes. “I think we can say that safely.” 

For more information, visit HalePono.org and TeranJY.org. 

Dan Collins