By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Many high school achievers are serial volunteers with multiple co-curricular activities and community service projects. Most have a true desire to serve their fellow students, their schools and their communities — but they’re also aware their service is viewed favorably when they apply to colleges.
Mahealani Yoshida fits the profile like a glove. The 17-year-old Konawaena High School senior is the school’s student body president, Leo Club historian, a National Honor Society member with a 3.8 grade-point average and is an infielder on the Wildcats softball team.
She is hoping to become a communications major at Chapman University in Southern California with an eye toward becoming a television host or news broadcaster.
Yoshida is also a second-year member of the Hawaii Meth Project’s Teen Advisory Council, joining fellow Big Island high schoolers Michelle Fratinardo, a senior at Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii, Lauren Pries, a senior at Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Kayla Yamada, a junior at Waiakea High School, on the statewide panel which specializes in school and community outreach.
“I have a personal reason,” she said. “One of my cousins was addicted to meth. I know what it’s like being a part of a family with an addict. So I felt the need to volunteer.”
Yoshida said that her cousin, now 27, has done time in jail and rehab due to his habit.
“He’s been sober now for about a year, I think, but it took him about 11 years to sober up. That’s with all the relapses,” she said. “He was always into drugs; he started getting into drugs at around 13, but he started using meth when he was 16. His mom would always be looking for him, because they lived with us for a little while. I was with her a few times when she went into town and asked everyone if they saw him. It was insane because she was always crying.
“I didn’t really understand it back then, but looking back, it seems so surreal now that I was there. It affected all of us because I was living with them.”
Yoshida said she watched her cousin “deteriorate from the inside out.”
“When I saw the physical effects that the drug had on him, I got that image imprinted into my head and I said that I never want to look like that,” she said. “I never want to go through that. I want to look like me. Because he didn’t even look like himself during that period of time.
“And then there was the psychological change. He was always so timid and jumpy. I didn’t really understand, but I remember thinking, like, oh my gosh, I never want to be so scared of everything. But now I realize he was just high.”
Yoshida said that before his addiction, her cousin was one of her favorite relatives.
“Whenever I was grouchy, he would sing the Tigger song from ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ He was always happy,” she said. “He played ukulele; he loved to sing. After (meth), he was always gone from the house. When he came home he smelled really bad. We never had conversations anymore.”
Now that he’s clean and sober, Yoshida said her cousin has steady work, is in a stable relationship and has an infant son.
“He’s filled out again; he’s not so bony. His teeth are nice,” she said. “He had a few bald spots, but his hair is all grown back now, so he looks healthy. He’ll never get back the years of his life he lost to meth, but now, he’s living for his son and it’s something he never wants to reopen and he never wants his kid to be exposed to it.”
Asked what advice she’d give to teens feeling peer pressure to try meth, Yoshida replied: “Don’t listen to your friends. Don’t take a hit. ‘Not even once’ is the Hawaii Meth Project motto. You take one hit and it will ruin your life. No matter what anybody tells you, that it will make you feel so great and you’ll have so much energy, it’s not worth it. Don’t do it.”
On the Internet: www.hawaiimethproject.org.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.