Whenever the Southern Utah Polynesian Association has a get-together, no one leaves hungry.

"It's just our nature," said Vermine Haws, association member. "Whenever Polynesians all get together they have to share."Sharing food and a bit of their culture with their children and the community was the reason the group organized more than 15 years ago. Now it has more than 100 members of Hawaiian, Tongan, Samoan and Maori descent.

"Everyone tells us we need to break up into separate groups, but we are stronger together," said SUPA President Lani Harward. "If we specialize too much we become weaker and just end up fighting against each other."

Separating would undermine many of the group's values and programs as well, said Herb Basso, a past president of SUPA and city recreation center director.

"It's a natural thing for us to make a connection," Basso said. "Whether we were born and raised in the islands or we just lived there for a little while, we like to keep in touch."

The group has received accolades from state officials for its togetherness. William Afeaki, director of the state Office of Polynesian Affairs, said the group serves as a model for other ethnic groups statewide.

Organization members meet monthly to find ways to perpetuate their cultures. Activities have included a Polynesian Choir and an annual luau at Dixie College showcasing the dances, songs and other cultural practices of the islands.

This year's luau attracted nearly 700 people and raised thousands of scholarship dollars. SUPA awards dozens of scholarships each year.

"Educating our youth is imperative to help perpetuate our culture," Basso said. "Every culture has to be educated enough so they can get along with other people."

SUPA sponsors its own education programs as well. Ed Malie teaches Hawaiian at his home.

"Hawaiian is such a beautiful language we are hoping to revive it," he said. "We have so many beautiful cultural opportunities; we all feel comfortable here."