All Fired Up
Suicide is a serious matter, so why is Kaylynn Drake smiling? Maybe it’s because her KekuaAloha Foundation is bringing the community together for a day of love, hope and support with the Youth “Burn Out Suicide” Fire Knife Competition and Keiki Fun Day events.
Back in 2016, Kaylynn Drake was just a headstrong high school freshman who wanted to make a difference for her Kaua‘i community. At the time, she was deeply affected by the suicide of a family member. Yet, she was able to turn this painful moment into a motivating force, and at the age of 14 became founder and CEO of her own nonprofit organization, KekuaAloha Foundation.
To that end, Drake and her foundation are gearing up for a dually assembled celebration March 30 that brings together the fourth annual Keiki Fun Day and second annual Youth “Burn Out Suicide” Fire Knife Competition.
KekuaAloha means “God is love” in Hawaiian. It’s also Drake’s middle name and has a sweetly personal meaning for her.
“My grandmother named me after her youngest brother, who passed away at a young age,” says Drake, 17. “I was born a premature baby with some complications. With God’s love, I miraculously survived and came home to Kaua‘i a month-and-a-half later. This name reminds me of how great God’s love is.”
For Drake and her family, KekuaAloha Foundation serves as a beacon of hope and faith, a symbol of perseverance borne out of tragedy. When Drake was first trying to organize her nonprofit, many people considered her to be too young and inexperienced for such a lofty endeavor.
“There were so many people saying, I don’t know how big and important this is,” recalls Drake, “Well, little did they know my story, because I know and completely understand firsthand.”
It was four years ago that family member Angela Drake lost her 17-year-old daughter to suicide. Angela became a strong advocate and spokesperson for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and this year will be the guest emcee for Keiki Fun Day. A portion of the proceeds from
this weekend’s event will go to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hawai‘i chapter.
The importance of family runs throughout the foundation’s work. Drake’s parents and brothers are not only huge supporters of all that she does, but they also are now active participants. The “Burn Out Suicide” Fire Knife Competition began last year as a creative way to increase community involvement. The driving force behind the competition, iSiva FireKnife Kaua‘i, was formed by Drake’s oldest brother, Michael-Alan Kalapawai Kamohoalii Kama Drake.
Building upon the strong foundation provided by her family, Drake has been able to create an accomplished résumé at a young age. Aside from her work as a nonprofit CEO, she dances hula and hip-hop, and is a member of the Lua Club and deputation team at Kamehameha Schools. In addition, she was chosen as the first American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Miss Aloha Ambassador Hawai‘i and First Kamehameha Schools Ka Punawai Ola character Christian Education Award recipient in 2017.
Balancing it all has not always been easy. “Throughout these four years, it was difficult to manage my academics and personal work at the same time,” she says. “It was also difficult being away from home as well, (while) making sure that I get my schoolwork in so that I pass and graduate, and focus some of my energy on working on the foundation.”
This last week alone, while many of her peers spent a relaxing spring break at the beach, Drake had a full series of events planned.
On March 18, she was a guest speaker at Aloha Church, talking to youth from Canada and Kaua‘i. Then there was the Adopt-a-Highway cleanup along Ahukini Road in Līhu‘e. Next, Drake taught a hip-hop dance class as a fundraiser for her foundation. Her month now culminates with Saturday’s Keiki Fun Day and “Burn Out Suicide” Fire Knife Competition.
Working with Kaua‘i’s youth keeps her motivated and inspired with the hope that she can make a positive difference in their lives.
“Depression and suicide has affected so many families, including mine,” explains Drake. “I have lost family members and friends to suicide, and I didn’t want others to have to go through what we had to, or at least make it easier by showing that they are not alone. Knowing that many of us face this situation, I wanted to bring the community and families together in a loving environment.
“I myself have been through phases of depression and anxiety which led me to suicide attempts. These traumatic experiences pushed me to follow through with the foundation, turn the negative to positive, to give people hope.”
To date, Drake’s foundation has participated in the Child Youth Day at ‘Iolani Palace, Relay for Life Walk on O‘ahu, Out of the Darkness Walk on Kaua‘i, and Adopt-a-Highway cleanup programs on both islands, as well.
Drakes hopes to grow her foundation, too, creating annual youth camps and eventually expanding the foundation out-of-state, which could work out well with her own personal plans for the future.
She is currently deciding on her college choice, which includes schools in O‘ahu, California and as far away as New Zealand. Given Drake’s drive and determination, in four years, there may very well be a KekuaAloha Foundation, Auckland branch.
For more information, call 755-5763 or visit kekuaalohafoundation.org.