Kia’i’s Journey: Finding Community and Purpose with Best Buddies in Hawai’i
Meet Kia’i Neff – a familiar face in our community whose journey with Best Buddies in Hawai’i started a few years ago at the Friendship Walk. Kia’i didn’t officially join until he became a Citizens (adult friendship) member, and since then, he’s been an integral part of our family.
His first Citizens outing took him to the Aloun Farm Pumpkin Festival, an experience he describes as “terrific.” Kia’i shares, “I was glad to go with the Best Buddies group. If I went alone, it would have made me feel like an outsider.”
But Kia’i’s involvement goes beyond outings. He’s a dedicated volunteer with the food bank and engages in outreach efforts, both before and during the pandemic. His commitment to serving the community stems from a lifelong ethos instilled by his family. Kia’i says, “I’ve done this throughout my life. Serving others has been instilled in me by my family.”
In addition to his local efforts, Kia’i is a passionate advocate for disability rights. Volunteering with ADAPT, a disability rights organization, he has even traveled to Washington D.C. to contribute to legislative efforts. “Our voices are louder in DC when we are there,” he emphasizes.
For Kia’i, volunteering isn’t just a way to fill his time; it’s a lifeline. “The spirit of volunteerism fills the void where I can’t work in a traditional sense,” he shares.
Discovering Best Buddies through the Friendship Walk was a turning point for Kia’i, who finds being in public challenging. “I’ve always had to keep my guard up, and it was exhausting,” he confides. Being with other participants at the Friendship Walk was reassuring. “It’s such a relief to be in a community like Best Buddies where I don’t have to have my guard up because I’m surrounded by friends.”
In this community, Kia’i feels a sense of belonging that goes beyond shared challenges. “We’re not alike, and we don’t have to try hard to be like everyone else. We’re a group of friends that have challenges, but they don’t define who we are. With Best Buddies, I don’t have a sense of being in a fishbowl. That’s a wonderful sensation.”
Kia’i’s journey is marked by resilience. Born autistic, he later faced a head injury triggering epileptic seizures and PTSD. Through it all, he found a companion in Kekoa, his seizure alert dog. “He saved my life,” Kia’i acknowledges.
As we celebrate the diverse tapestry of our Best Buddies community, Kia’i’s story stands as a testament to the power of friendship, shared purpose, and the strength found in embracing our authentic selves. Let’s continue to support each other, just like Kia’i does every day.