First published in the Sept. 3 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
A few years ago, local teenage volunteer Luke Aloe noticed that many youth with special needs within his community felt isolated.
Inspired by Dominic, his older brother who has autism, Luke created a social group which meets monthly for teenagers with disabilities in the South Pasadena area.
“The name Moai comes from the moai social groups in Okinawa, Japan, where residents have some of the longest lifespans in the world,” explained Aloe, a junior at Loyola High in Los Angeles. “Their long lives have been credited to these social groups, where they keep in touch with their friends throughout their lifetimes.”
Although initially launched in his backyard with only a few volunteers and participants, Club Moai has grown into a soon-to-be nonprofit organization with more than 30 participants who attended their most recent event, Camp Moai, an action-packed week of activities and bonding.
Earlier this year, Aloe and his friend Ziko Elkobaitry, who serves as co-camp director and treasurer, applied for and won a $5,000 grant and leadership training from the Dragon Kim Fellowship. Edith Stevenson, who helps Aloe and Elkobaitry as head of social media and outreach, partnered with Club Moai for her Girl Scout Gold Award.
The trio planned and organized Camp Moai, which was held from July 26-30 for both the club’s monthly social group “regulars” as well as newcomers from around the Los Angeles area. The camp was provided to the campers at no cost to their families.
The group started out with arts and crafts, with the 36 campers and 21 teenage volunteers from Pasadena Polytechnic School and South Pasadena High School painting shirts and making friendship bracelets. They then moved on to Bowlero Bowling Alley in Pasadena. Tuesday was an Olympics-themed day in South Pasadena’s Garfield Park with competitions like paper airplane flying and a scavenger hunt, complete with “Camp Moai” medals. On Wednesday, the group spent the day at Poly, where they enjoyed a drama and movement class taught by teachers Tiffany LaBarbara-Palmer and Brady Frome. That was followed by some time in the Poly swimming pool. Thursday was filled with walking in the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens and enjoying ice cream. The camp finished on Friday by painting mugs from Color Me Mine, dancing and singing karaoke at the Holy Family Church, and a camper award ceremony back at Garfield Park.
With school back in session now, Aloe is encouraging more volunteers and participants to return to Club Moai, which meets once a month on Saturdays at Holy Family in South Pasadena.
“We’ve been meeting monthly since September 2019,” said Aloe. “Prior to the pandemic, we met in the youth room of my church, which is Holy Family. Then, we moved online for a brief time, and we’ve been in-person meeting at Lacy Park since.”
Aloe said that each of the monthly events last between two and three hours and include arts and crafts, outdoor games, listening to music, “and just having fun.” Attendance at the monthly events is typically between 10-15 teenagers with special needs and a similar amount of high school volunteer “buddies.”
The “buddies” system also sprung from Aloe’s relationship with his brother.
“I was motivated to give him, and other teenagers with disabilities, fun social experiences that most teenagers with special needs don’t have,” Aloe said.
Community members who would like to donate, join, volunteer or learn more about Club Moai are invited to visit its website at clubmoai.org or their Instagram page @club.moai.