In 1990, Hawaii State Representative Suzanne Chun Oakland attended a legislative conference in Rensalaerville, New York. She met another female legislator from another State on the East Coast who shared with her that, in her State Legislature, they had a Children's Caucus. Not many States had such a caucus. Representative Chun loved the idea and went back to Hawaii with a fire in her heart to create a children's legislative caucus in Hawaii. A legislative caucus is an organized group of legislators who have a common area of interest and, collectively, they provide leadership in discussing, developing, promoting and successfully passing laws that improve the overall well-being of the subject matter. The legislative caucus to promote and improve the general well-being of children and youth in Hawaii did not exist in Hawaii during this time period and often their voices and concerns were not solicited by the Legislature.
She spoke with Hawaii State Representative Dennis Arakaki, who she knew shared a deep commitment to the children and youth of Hawaii. He loved the idea of a children's caucus in Hawaii and coined the name “Keiki Caucus”.
Susie Chun Oakland
Representatives Chun and Arakaki, as co-founders and co-conveners of the Caucus, then invited their colleagues in the State House of Representatives and Senate to join the caucus as members. In any given year thereafter, more than half of the Hawaii State Legislature were members of this Caucus. The Keiki Caucus also invited the Hawaii Children's Campaign members, other advocates, government officials, and people from the broader community supportive of Hawaii's keiki and ‘ōpio to become a part of the Keiki Caucus Resource Group. Together, the Caucus and Resource Group met together to do annual environmental scans of the well-being of children and youth in Hawaii every May. They then identified areas of concern that people observed in their professional and community work with young people, inviting to monthly Keiki Caucus meetings researchers and professionals in the field of child development, health, social workers, and other frontline workers, children and youth organizations, parents, and children and youth advocates to join members of the Keiki Caucus in meaningful discussions and learning sessions from May through October.
With the knowledge, research and information gathered from these joint efforts, the community fully engaged in legislative discussions to brainstorm the most critical issues and concerns that needed to be addressed in the next legislative session on behalf of Hawaii's children and youth. In 2015–2016, the Keiki Caucus earned a sterling reputation of being one of the longest standing legislative caucuses (along with Hawaii's Kupuna Caucus) that fully embraced community engagement best practices nationally.
The City and County of Honolulu also earned several years of recognition as being the top City in the nation as the most child-friendly City in part because of their co-sponsorship of Children and Youth Day.
In the month of October, the Keiki Caucus holds a Children and Youth Summit to bring people across the State to help prioritize these issues and suggest solutions that required statutory changes or could be done by the Executive or Judicial Branches of government at the County, State and Federal level. There were also issues identified that could be done through collective and collaborative community effort, which did not require any legislation. From November to early January, the Hawaii State Legislature's Keiki Caucus helps draft and develop a Keiki Caucus Package based on the outcome of the Summit and the discussions that took place monthly with the Resource Group and Caucus members. This process continues to bring relevant and community supported legislation that helps address the well-being of Hawaii's young people each year.
In 1994, Representatives Arakaki and Chun discussed their mutual concern that the Legislature was focusing too much on the negative aspects of children and youth and that, by far, there was much more positive and inspirational things that Hawaii's children and youth were engaged in that needed to be highlighted and celebrated.
That is when the idea of having a day and week dedicated to Hawaii's young people was conceived. They introduced a bill in the 1994 legislative session as a Keiki Caucus initiative designating the first Sunday in October and the week thereafter as Children's Day and Week in Hawaii.
State Representatives Arakaki, Mark Takai, and Chun became the joint chairs of this celebration and received permission from the State Ethics Commission to solicit funding for this celebration and utilize their State offices to coordinate the Children's Day kick-off event, the Children and Youth Summit, a Leader for a Day Essay Contest and an Outstanding Children and Youth Advocates Awards Luncheon in the month of October.
A few dozen organizations participated in the first Children's Day event at Kapiolani Park as the culminating event of the McGruff Fun Run. About 300 people attended that first Children's Day celebration.
In 1997, with the popularity of this series of events, the Hawaii State Legislature passed another law amending the statute to designate the entire month of October as Children and Youth Month in Hawaii.
With the passage of the law, the Legislature officially recognizes the importance of Hawaii's children and youth and designates the first Sunday as Children and Youth Day in Hawaii and the month of October as Children and Youth Month in Hawaii. This legislative recognition is not common in other states in America and makes it extra special that the State of Hawaii and its people would support community efforts to come together for the sake of its keiki and ‘ōpio and organize special events that honors and celebrates all that is special about the young people of Hawaii and across the world.
The Senate President, House Speaker, Governor and Mayor supported this children and youth celebration as a joint State and City-sponsored event along with hundreds of other organizations, who contributed as sponsors of this month long celebration.
Today, over 300 organizations support the Children and Youth Day festivities on the first Sunday in October and about 50,000 people attend this fun, educational, interactive, free event.
The celebration has become one of the most well attended community events in Hawaii, has fostered community good will, ‘ohana strengthening and community-building opportunities, and is the perfect venue to learn so many different things that touch our lives on a daily basis and allow us to learn and practice positive behaviors that strengthen families and build confident, creative, talented, knowledgeable, altruistic, kind, caring and resilient young people who will contribute in so many wonderful ways to Hawaii, the rest of the nation and to the world.
CYD also provides a venue for nonprofit organizations; county, City, State and Federal offices; businesses; children and youth groups; and community service organizations to highlight the resources available in Hawaii that support our children, teens, and their families that they may not know are available to them.
Mahalo for the generations of talented, generous, caring and loving people who make the Children and Youth Day and Month a special time of the each year for Hawaii's keiki and ‘ōpio!
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