Most people think of Hawaii as a paradise, and I’m among them. I count my blessings every day, as I soak up the great weather year-round, swim in the ocean twice a week, walk through Honokaʻa greeting friends and acquaintances with hugs, and take advantage of yoga, ecstatic dance, meditation, local music, farmer’s markets and more.
But there’s a dark side to the story of the Big Island, one of need and poverty. It’s time to tell that story, a story that deeply matters to me. I’ve been actively working with the Board of Directors for the Hāmākua Youth Foundation, Inc. (HYF) for close to three years. Recently I stepped down from the board for personal reasons, but continue as Secretary. I have also chosen to spend most of my yearly charitable contributions with this organization. Why? Because this is the leverage point where I can make a difference in this community, supporting our children.
Sixty percent of students in the Honokaʻa school district are on free or reduced school lunch program. Sixty percent! Approximately 22% of area families have single heads-of-household and there is a continuing high level of unemployment and underemployment with minimal local work opportunities. Many parents commute to the other side of the island for work in our tourist industry, and kids are often on their own in the mornings, after school, and into the evening. After-school alternatives are limited and our youth are at risk for developing unhealthy behaviors.
The HYF has been providing local children a safe, nurturing after-school program at the Hāmākua Youth Center since 2009 when they incorporated (and before that, since 1996). HYF also supports a summer program, internships, mentoring for teens and post-high school scholarships. Volunteers and staff help children with homework. The Center offers gardening experiences, music, arts and crafts, cooking, field trips and introduction to Hawaiian language, chants and hula. They provide meals; for some children, it’s their only nourishing meal besides the school lunch.
But now the Center is bursting at the seams, serving 35-45 students every day in a rented store-front space with one main room, a kitchen and an office. The teens don’t especially like hanging out with the keiki. Kids doing homework get distracted by others who have already finished. There’s no outside space to blow off steam or play games. The current facility requires significant repairs and the owners are selling the property. The Center urgently needs more room.
So HYF is taking a huge leap of faith and buying the Okada Building next door. It offers lots of room (triple the current location), separate spaces for keiki and teens, and a large yard for play and gardening. HYF is securing a loan, and now needs to raise funds to renovate the 1938 former hospital: $100,000. That’s a lot of zeros for this small grass-roots organization.
But each of us can make a difference. So I did what my heart told me to do: I opened my checkbook. Hawaiians have a wonderful word for this: kuleana, accepting my responsibility with deliberate intent.
I hope you find this a compelling story. If you live here, or even if you just wish you lived here, please look into your heart. I invite you to check out our Capital Improvement Campaign. Donate if you are able, any amount through Paypal or our GoFund Me. To save the overhead that both take, checks can be mailed to: Hamakua Youth Foundation, P.O. Box 381, Honoka‘a, HI, 96727. Or stop in and visit, at 45-3396 Mamane Street. The Hāmākua Youth Foundation and our youth thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
For more information on HYC teaching keiki gardening and animal care skills, read Hāmākua Harvest’s 2nd Annual Farm Festival – see the progress.
If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.