Rylee Brooke Kamahele is currently a freshman in high school and founded her first organization in 2016 when she was just 8 years old. Kamahele is making an impact by inspiring youth in Hawaii and helping them become changemakers themselves. Today, she works with over twenty different organizations that serve the local community in Hawaii.
All images provided by Kamahele.
At eight years old Kamahele started doing pageants, and through pageantry her love of community service grew. When she tried to get more involved in local volunteer work she found that many organizations didn’t want to work with kids. It was assumed kids would just play around and the adults would have to “babysit” them.
“But that wasn’t the case with me and my friends,” says Kamahele. “We really had a heart for volunteering.”
So Kamahele decided to take matters into her own hands. She founded her first organization, Love is a Verb Foundation, that works to build youth into leaders by giving them volunteer opportunities.
Creating the Next Generation of Leaders
With much success, Love is a Verb Foundation has now been working with kids for five years. The program helps kids pursue issues they are passionate about by providing education, training, mentorship and volunteer work. Many of the kids even get internships and leadership experience running programs or start their own initiatives.
“I have had kids volunteer with me since they were around the age of four and now they are grown. Their hearts for volunteering have grown so much,” says Kamahele. “They decided to create their own program or organizations that I’m helping them with, or they are spearheading a few of my different programs.”
Establishing a Non-Profit
Kamahele’s next initiative, the Catalyst Club, branched out of her foundation. The Catalyst Club mission is, “to create and provide opportunities for children and youth to be a catalyst for change that makes a positive impact on the world.”
As more projects started to come to fruition, Kamahele decided instead of having them all as stand-alone organizations, she would establish them as programs under Catalyst Club as the one umbrella non-profit organization.
Today her many projects are set up in the following way: The Catalyst Club has three organizations under it (Love is a Verb Foundation, Promise to Our Keiki, and Secret Santa Hawaii) and those three have another fifteen organizations under that!
Kamahele is currently in the process of applying for 501c3 status for the Catalyst Club and hopes to obtain the non-profit status within a year.
Impacts on the Island
Kamahele has accomplished some incredible work that has positively impacted the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. The Promise to Our Keiki organization (keiki meaning children in Hawai’ian) advocates for change and strives to empower youth to be advocates and activists themselves.
The organization focuses on issues created by humans such as climate change, endangered animals, and pollution. And this is the organization where Kamahele aims to make impacts through the legislature. She is a speaker at many events to raise awareness of environmental issues our world faces.
A bill Promise to Our Keiki was advocating for–to phase out single use plastic on O’ahu–just passed and is going into effect.
Another project under the Catalyst Club is Secret Santa Hawaii. Every year since 2017 the program gives underprivileged youth a Christmas experience with gifts, food, games and performances.
“We go into all the shelters and give gifts, as well as doing things like icebreaker games and ornament decorating,” says Kamahele.
When Kamahele first started her organization, people wouldn’t always take her seriously. “It was hard to get out there. People looked at me like I was an eight-year-old, which I was, but inside there was so much more than that going on.”
Over the years she’s made a name for herself in the community, and now works to ensure other youth volunteers aren’t met with the same sentiment.
“I’ve raised my kids up to make a name for themselves as well,” says Kamahele. “That’s one of the more rewarding parts, seeing my kids grow so much and their hearts for volunteering.”
Kamahele’s organization started youth-run and remains that way today. Kamahele runs it all herself with help from friends. She is in charge of administration responsibilities like social media, emails, and keeping in contact with kids who love to volunteer. She serves as a mentor to kids and creates partnerships with local organizations.
When asked to share a piece of advice to other students who may want to launch an initiative like hers, Kamahele has a motto she lives by: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
She stresses finding and pursuing your passion. “I make sure whatever I do with the kids, I connect their passion to their purpose. Do what you’re passionate about.”
And after a moment Kamahele has another piece of sound advice–“Your age is really just a number.”
Being a Teen in High School
With all of her accomplishments, it’s hard to believe Kamahele just started her first year of high school. In the past she was homeschooled, but returned for the high school experience.
Between her organizations and school Kamahele stays busy, but says she loves to “juggle everything” and even has many more hobbies she is passionate about. The teen does both All Star Cheerleading and is on the varsity cheer team for school. In her free time she likes to do ocean conservation projects, shark diving, boxing, strength conditioning, and also acts and models.
Looking to the Future
Within the next year Kamahele does hope to obtain a non-profit status for Catalyst Club but says it has been difficult since they are trying to keep it completely youth-run.
As the holidays draw closer, Kamahele will start the Secret Santa preparations which include picking up toy donations and planning the events.
The teen then talks about her next aspirations with excitement. “Way in the future, maybe like 10 years from now, I had this idea when I was around ten to create a giant community center called ‘The Hub’. I’m excited for that to come together.”
We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Kamahele!
Learn more about the Catalyst Club. Read more Rustic Spirit stories.