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LT Teens Learn Resiliency Through a Unique Boutique

LT Teens Learn Resiliency Through a Unique Boutique


A brand-new boutique has opened in West Oʻahu.

Inside, a hui (group) of teenagers enthusiastically work together to plan logistics for the arrival of customers this summer.

Liliʻu Boutique is not a traditional retail store. It is a learning space for ʻōpio (youth), ages 14-18, to develop social-emotional skills through interactions with customers and peers.

The teens are supported by Liliʻuokalani Trust, whose mission is to provide youth with the tools and resources needed to thrive. Most of the teens participate in alternative learning programs to encourage school retention. Some are involved with the foster care or juvenile justice systems. Others do not have consistent housing and live in temporary shelters.

Taking the teens under her wing is Sharon Ehia, a Program Manager who nurtures them like they are her own children. “We provide opportunities for our kamaliʻi to know they are loved, feel safe, and they can use their voices,” says Ehia, who oversees the Puʻu Lei o Liliʻu (PLOL) program for the Trust.

In addition to social-emotional development, she says the teens will learn self-reliance and entrepreneurship by participating in the boutique. Business leaders across Oʻahu have graciously offered mentorship in sales and marketing, inventory management, public speaking and business attire, and retail operations. 

The boutique does not employ monetary transactions. Customers (who also are teens and tweens) purchase goods with “Liliʻu Bucks,” a specialty form of currency.

To obtain Liliʻu Bucks, individuals must accumulate them through points and referrals. For example, someone might receive bucks after meeting requirements to exit the juvenile system. Or a disengaged student might earn points for attending all classes during a school semester.

The points-and-referral system extends beyond the teens in the Trust. Eligibility also includes members of other nonprofit groups that partner with the Trust, including Alu Like and Partners in Development.

The boutique is part of a broader summer program by the Trust, centered around the theme “Serving Learning.” From June to August, the teens will have opportunities to visit urban Honolulu sites that are significant to Hawaiian heritage, especially those associated with Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Also included in the summer program: Helping kūpuna (elderly) neighbors revitalize a māla (garden); organizing and coding volumes of historic Hawaiian books; and learning about the history of the lands surrounding Liliʻuokalani Center, which is under construction by the Trust and slated to open in 2025 as the worldʻs largest center for indigenous children.

Ehia has high hopes that the summer program, complemented by the boutique concept, will lead to personal growth for the youth. “Our hope is to spark interest in them, so that they can plan for their legacy and future — and shift the narrative of what is happening in our community,” Ehia says.