Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena Elementary program teaches students etiquette and life skills
WEST MAUI – A chorus of young voices resound: “I am Grateful; I am Encouraging; I am Neat; I am Thoughtful; I am Loving; I am Educated; I am Myself; I am Appreciative; I am Noble; I am a Gentleman.”
It’s a chicken skin, tear-worthy experience, watching the lineup of Princess Nahi’ena’ena Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders recite their Island Gents’ creed proud, loud and clear, without hesitation.
It’s the end of year two of the successful Island Gents Mentorship Program at Princess, and it’s grown to include 25 fourth and 27 fifth grade young men and 31 Island Ladies, plus plenty of community support.
It was brought to the West Side elementary school campus by the newly hired school counselor, Richard Jack III, in 2015.
Born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, Mr. Jack relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1990, where he served in the United States Air Force until retirement from active duty in 2007.
His resume of achievements is impressive. He earned a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of Phoenix, is trained in Neuro-linguistic Programming and is a certified Life Coach. In 2013, Mr. Jack cofounded the Gentlemen By Choice Community Development Corporation nonprofit in Las Vegas.
When he assumed his position as one of two counselors at Princess, he brought the mentorship program with him.
“Mrs. K. (Princess Principal Lynn Kaho’ohalahala) allowed me to pilot the program at the school the first year, and I appreciate her allowing me to do so.
“She was so excited about what she saw from the program that first year, how well the boys responded to it and how well the community accepted it, that she approached me and asked about adding a female component,” Jack advised the Lahaina News.
The mission of Gentlemen By Choice is to enrich the lives of young men through Leadership, Image, Finance and Etiquette (LIFE) skills training.
“The needs of the young men in today’s society are huge,” Jack continued, “and, wherever we can get in to help fill a gap and to help young men evolve into manhood in the right way and become gentlemen and productive citizens, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Adding the Island Ladies element didn’t require much change in the mentorship vision.
“The Island Gents and Island Ladies are one in the same program,” he said.
“What this program does is it allows them to develop a deeper understanding of what it is to be a gentleman or a lady, so that they start to learn how to govern their own behaviors,” Jack added.
The intent is not to replace parental responsibility but rather to enhance established values and principles.
Selection into the program is teacher-driven, with Jack interviewing potential candidates as well. Membership is based on both demonstrated and potential leadership qualities.
“One of the key concepts of the program is that for 16 weeks (January through May), students are put through rigorous training. It is not a social club. There are high expectations and high demands on them. They are held accountable; their behavior and attitude must resemble that of a lady and a gentleman.”
“They are looked to be leaders of the school,” Jack observed. “They are looked to when there are parent functions like Muffins for Moms or Pastries for Parents, directing (campus foot) traffic in terms of helping people get to where they need to be.”
There is a dress code.
“By putting young men in black slacks and pink shirts and young ladies in pink shirts and black skirts, they feel differently about themselves, and they begin to act differently,” Jack reasoned.
Community service is vital.
“We (Fourth Grade Gents) came in on a Saturday and made 112 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and we donated to the Salvation Army to feed the homeless. So we have team building, and we have given back to the community. The kids can also learn organizational skills, including how to make sandwiches in a healthy way,” he explained.
The fifth grade Island Gents did a beach cleanup on April 22, Earth Day, and it included a “conversation about what it is to take care of the Earth. So we try to incorporate as many different variables into the service, maximizing the learning experience,” Jack commented.
He credited community buy-in as key to the success of the program.
“We’ve had support from the hotel and hospitality industry,” including the Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt Regency, Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa, The Westin and The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort, to name a few.
“I’ve been blessed to be in a community where people don’t mind contributing; they don’t mind giving back,” Jack said.
Brandon J. Maeda is The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort (KOR) Villas Complex Director of Food and Beverage.
The KOR conducted a recent dining etiquette training, first in the classroom, and then hosted a luncheon (last year and this year), “where the youth are able to practice their new skills and manners in a formal setting, with food and a staff serving them.
“We teach them things like which utensils to use for each course, how to start polite conversation, teach the young men to pull out the chairs for the ladies, etc. I also serve on the board for the program and represent The Westin KOR Villas in the fundraising efforts and activities throughout the year that supports the program initiatives,” Maeda said.
KOR Human Resources Complex Director Annette David has played a pivotal role in the Island Ladies program.
“I am an advisor and a mentor for the Island Ladies program. We have gone to the school to mentor the Island Ladies on empowerment and having the right attitude in life.
“The values taught are the foundation for transforming these bright young students. You see them develop more confidence and a stronger sense of belief in themselves,” David said.
Eleven-year-old Jazmin Mathias is an Island Lady and has benefited from her participation.
“I have learned how to behave properly in public; to show respect in my behavior and use my manners when speaking. I have learned how to eat properly. I have learned how to work together and be mindful of others. I have learned how to be a sisterhood. These things have helped me a lot in becoming a better person and Island Lady,” she said.
Her mom, Lorna Mathias, speaks highly of her daughter’s Island Lady experience: “I like that this program gives her tools on how to handle life situations. Learning responsibility, accountability, community service, respect for self and others, leadership and image, experiences from guest speakers and hands-on field trips – this is so important to a child’s well-rounded development, especially in this world.”
Arika Rains is the parent of an Island Gent. “My experience with my son Kawai in this program has been amazing. They have helped organize school events to bring the ohana closer, fed the homeless and learned how to be leaders and team players hands-on from awesome mentors.
“Mr. Jack,” Rains added, “has helped us through some respect issues that everyone faces; kids love to push boundaries. My son completely trusts him, and it has helped make our family’s bond that much stronger. More kids should be in this program.”
“At the end of the 16 weeks; at the end of the sessions,” Jack announced, “we come together and have a big black and white tie gala. We fly in tuxedos for the boys, and the young ladies wear black dresses; it is a formal black and white gala event.
“We invite the families to participate along with the school staff that’s helped to mentor these young people and the community leaders supporting the program. What the gala becomes is an opportunity for people to see how the students have grown and developed. It also gives the hotel industry and people that have contributed the opportunity to see the maturation process that has taken place the past six months.”
The gala is hosted by the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa. It’s a sit down dinner, free of charge, by invitation only.
“It is not necessarily for free, because the students really earn the right to go to the gala,” Jack stipulated.
The attire is formal.
“The fourth grade boys will be in white shirts, black slacks, black bow ties and black vests. The fifth grade boys will be in full tuxes, and the fifth grade girls will be in black dresses.”
In a letter to the West Side community, Jack wrote: “To offer support to our Island Ladies and Island Gents chapters, we are soliciting contributions and monetary donations from community businesses and organizations. Donations allow GBC to provide uniforms, field trips and experiences outside of the classroom free of charge to mentees, their families and their school.
“We are currently working toward our end-of-year gala that will allow mentees to showcase their growth and development to their parents and the community. It is our intention to have the families experience this celebration at no cost as a considerable number of our students come from economically challenged homes. If you are able to support our young mentees, we would greatly appreciate your sponsorship.”
In order to accomplish this, individuals, business and community leaders are encouraged to sponsor a table. The cost is $250. The table accommodates three to four Ladies/Gents and their families.
For more information, or to support the program and/or year-end gala, visit the Gentlemen By Choice website at gentlemenbychoicecdc.com or call Mr. Jack at (702) 443-6862.