Motulalo Otuafi always knew he wanted to work with kids and help those struggling through their teen years to make good choices and find their way back on to the right path.
His original career path was to become a teacher, but after talking to his brother, Afa, who worked in juvenile probation, he changed his mind.
“My brother was working with kids and helping them get back on track and that appealed to me,” Motulalo said. “You’d see these kids get a ‘bad kid’ label, but then working with them, I could see the influence a person can have as they start down the wrong road. We can help them get back on track.”
Grew up in Hawaii, Fernley and Reno
The Tongan native, who spent a few years growing up in Hawaii, came to Nevada following his large family which had settled in Fernley. He graduated from McQueen High School after his family bought a home in Reno and went on to college in Utah on a football scholarship before going on a church mission. Upon returning from his mission, he went to live with his brother in South Dakota and played football at Northern State University before graduating in 2002 with a degree in criminal justice.
When Afa told Motulalo about a juvenile probation position open in Churchill County, “Lalo” jumped at the chance to work with youth.
Now, 18 years later and coming up through the ranks at JPO, Lalo was sworn in as chief of the Churchill County Juvenile Probation Office on Jan. 17 upon the retirement of former Chief Tami Richardson.
Getting back on track
Having worked with both adults and youth in the probation setting, Lalo prefers the teens because they can still make changes to their life whereas he saw that was much more difficult for adults.
“I could guide them back on track and they could grab whatever guidance I could offer them,” he said. He knows the JPO staff has great success with some of their former charges because they will come back to say ‘thank you’ or invite them to a significant family event, like weddings.
“We may not see it right away, but they will stop back and thank us for caring for them,” he said.
Sports and coaching
You may recognize Lalo from the sidelines or press box at Churchill County High School football games where he has served as the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator for many years.
He got into coaching at the request of County Commissioner Bus Scharmann who asked him to help coach the freshman football team at CCHS.
“Coaching has helped me create a relationship with our kids in the community outside of the JPO setting. I think it is good for kids to see a different aspect of the JPO staff,” Lalo said.
He added that he always emphasizes the importance of making good choices on and off the field of play.
Lalo and his wife Lesieli have two daughters, Leilani and Nola. You may recognize Leilani as a star CCHS basketball player from last year’s 3A championship team. Now that Leilani is playing basketball as a freshman at Brigham Young University, Lalo will step back from full-time coaching in Fallon to travel to Utah to watch her play. But he won’t leave coaching altogether.
“I will coach here when I can and assist as I am able,” he said.
Photo: JPO leadership team from left: Julia Mello, deputy chief; Otuafi; Brandon Bird, deputy chief - detention operations and District Court Judge Thomas Stockard.