An Interview With Kevin Lee Fujimoto (PsyD ‘01) And Danielle Jomaa (MA ‘10)
KEVIN LEE FUJIMOTO (KF)[second from left] is the Executive Director of Surfrider Spirit Sessions (SSS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the lives of at-risk youth through its unique mentoring program. SSS uses the shared experience and power of surfing to provide a motivational pathway and a sense of ohana (family) to foster positive change and success in life.
Why do you focus on a holistic approach to health?
KF: SSS got its start when Hawaii courts asked how to instill the concepts of better choices, managing mistakes, and accepting challenges in our youth. Our answer was surfing. Participants develop mindfulness by learning how and where waves are formed, and they develop physical awareness through catching waves and practicing yoga. We take it a step further by helping them connect to Hawaiian cultural heritage, and malama aina (caring for the land) by picking up cigarette butts and taking pride in caring for our environment. Later, participants have the opportunity to give back by mentoring younger at-risk youth. I’m motivated to continue not only because of the results I see in our data collection, but because of the positive changes I see in our youth.
How can physical activity change our mental outlook?
KF: At SSS, we use physical activity to teach children to empower themselves. We promise each teen that if they accept our support and try, they will catch a wave on their first day. Many doubt us, but we make it happen. Then we ask, “What else can you achieve that you don’t believe is possible?”
How do you explain the connection between mind and body and overall health to the people you work with?
KF: Staff and volunteer mentors working with at-risk youth help increase awareness of the connections that are inherently woven in the fabric of who we are—between self and other; between thinking, feeling, and doing; between person, environment, and purpose; and between past, present, and future, to name a few. Even more effective than explanations, we often invite interested individuals to participate in a session to get a sense of the positive change that takes place. Then they are able to understand the approach on a cognitive level, but are also able to experience the shifts on visceral and spiritual levels.
What results have you seen from people implementing mind-body techniques?
KF: SSS was designed to address the problem of 5,000 youth in Hawaii’s juvenile justice system. Our state’s higher-than-the-national-average rates in runaway arrests, truancy, negative peer group association, and academic failure are of great concern. Through the program, we’ve been able to address underlying issues such as relationships with parents, improved health choices like avoiding drugs and alcohol, or feeling more connected to the community. The results show a shift in our youth’s perspective to focus on what they can positively achieve versus simply getting into trouble and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.
Just this summer, a former SSS youth graduated from her high school and was accepted to a university on the mainland. She came to us with severe emotional and behavioral issues, including attempted suicide, and was barely speaking to anyone. After participating in our program, she became a Junior Mentor Manager, training other youth to become Junior Mentors, and was our first Junior Advisory Board Member.
What are the key benefits to using this approach to wellness?
KF: Using a holistic approach, we are able to quickly engage our youth and motivate them to actively participate in the program at a faster rate. With a variety of levels for mentees and mentors to interact on and share their experiences with each other, a trusting relationship is quicker formed. SSS is able to positively influence a person’s overall general health while providing a greater awareness on how to develop a well-balanced lifestyle.
RIMA DANIELLE JOMAA (RJ) is from Los Angeles and lives part-time in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, where she hosts personalized retreats and workshops. She’s a marriage and family therapist, a yoga instructor, a Reiki practitioner, a hypnotherapist and an entrepreneur. Her long-term goal and vision is to open a residential treatment center for adolescents and young adults in Costa Rica, with a holistic, yoga-based curriculum. She currently has a private practice in San Clemente, California.