Kylee Hamamoto ’24 is a passionate teen who has built a community of service-oriented women supporting each other through her nonprofit, WeGo! Hawai‘i. With 13 national and international chapters, including ones in California and Japan, her platform has reached over 20,000 students, and sparked more than 50 student projects.
Born out of the pandemic, Hamamoto started WeGo! in eighth grade to help girls connect in person, via Zoom, and through WeGo!’s social media and online platforms. Since then, it has blossomed into a successful initiative with two main programs that foster leadership and women’s empowerment. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, with recognitions that include the prestigious 2023 Prudential Emerging Visionary and the 2023 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge awards as well as write-ups in Yahoo! Finance and the Wall Street Journal.
The organization’s name, derived from a Hawaiian-Creole phrase, “we go,” embodies her dad’s words before taking her out on adventures. She infuses this spirit of action and Hawaiian values into her work, believing these principles can help achieve greater gender equity.
The first program is comprised of an award-winning curriculum created by Hamamoto that leads girls through a four-step process to discover their passion, find their voice, brainstorm ideas, and share their project with others – all tailored to each participant’s unique interests. This leadership program blends essential life skills, such as public speaking, financial literacy, creative expression, community service and academic skills, with an engineering design-thinking approach for project development.
The second component to her curriculum is the co-leader program, where she enlists the help of alumni from her four-step program to lead the next generation of women. Additionally, Hamamoto has built an impressive cadre of women leaders from various fields, such as chefs, filmmakers and entrepreneurs, who share advice and knowledge with the young women. Inspired by remote learning during the pandemic, Hamamoto created a video and podcast series of the guest speakers to reach girls from afar.
Currently WeGo! involves approximately 400 girls, including students from Punahou, international chapters and a local public middle school. Hamamoto is actively training 30 co-leaders at Punahou to ensure the organization’s sustainability. “It’s all about keeping the cycle going with alumni paying the experience forward to help the younger students,” Hamamoto says.
A highlight of her work through WeGo! has been working with a group of around 30 girls at Ke‘elikōlani Middle School through weekly after-school or weekend workshops. Notable projects include a food business inspired by one girl’s Filipino cultural heritage and a team of girls who raised money through their sticker designs to supply other students with art supplies. Hamamoto plans to continue supporting these students when she starts college through a scholarship fund she created with the grant funds she received from her Prudential award.
Not one to sit still, Hamamoto is also adept at playing the three-stringed Okinawa sanshin, excels as a track sprinter, and is a decorated JROTC cadet, receiving the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement from the US Army Cadet Command – a coveted medal awarded to just 75 cadets nationwide. She aspires to serve in the military, inspired by her sense of service and leadership developed through JROTC. Her ultimate goal is to make WeGo! her full-time job and continue her passion for women’s empowerment throughout college and beyond.
When asked how she can engage in so many different meaningful activities, she says, “I thrive on moving around and going from school to meetings, to track practice to JROTC events. Everything I’m doing is something I love and am passionate about, so that’s why I’m able to pursue it all.”
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