Over the past 19 years on the islands of Hawai'i we have seen the changes and impacts our programs make for those who were born into homelessness. Against the odds of success, these teens made it!! Many might not understand the crisis that State of Hawai'i is in overall. We are the highest ranked for homeless children, we have the less graduating teens, we are ranked as one of the worst for social services and have more babies born to welfare than any other state per capita... if that isn't enough odds, being homeless has a rate of 14% chance of receiving a diploma, and typically that includes having a baby or pregnancy. Most of our children were born to an unmarried teen mom who is illiterate, many do not know their fathers, and so many are being raised by a relative. So many hidden secrets our state holds as the odds continue to be stacked against their progress.
After years of creating and modifying our award winning summer camps and teen mentoring programs, we are seeing the success. Teens who were born into homelessness to a family that unfortunately did not have the education or life skills needed to succeed are now headed to college!!
Hawai'i has proven decade after decade that supporting our children with educational resources is NOT any where near top of their goals. The sad fact is the law makers continue to cut programs, implement rules and regulations that make it almost impossible for the low income students succeed, let alone a child born into homelessness actually succeed.
Some examples of the odds that stack against our children's escape.
In 2004 the governor decided to make a law that children without closed toe shoes could not participate in basic physical education class, or play sports during recess. On an island state where 90% of the children wear rubber slippahs daily due to the climate, and high cost of shoes, this completely threw our children for a spin. The average cost of closed toe shoes are approx. $20. When you are living homeless in a car or tent with limited or zero income, your child does not get to participate in school based activities. This also leads to becoming an outcast and being teased, not to mention the health decline. Project Hawai’i, Inc. took this issue head on and created our Healthy Hearts for Homeless Keiki program to provide and assure every child has a new pair of shoes and all their school and sports needs.
In 2006, the USDA decided that any nonprofit or any program who wishes to feed the homeless children over the summer can now only do this for 9 days in a row without being certified. While this might sort of seem like a protective measure, it actually prohibits so many small organizations and churches from providing free meals during the crucial time of the child's life. Our summer camp had a "surprise" visit from a USDA worker who flew all the way from the mainland to shut us down. Yes... can you image the USDA trying to stop people from feeding homeless children. So, once again Project Hawai’i, Inc. steps up and not only becomes certified because we thought that was the answer... we eventually just reprogramed our camps to adhere or go around their ridiculous rules. Battling the government in all branches seems to be a trend when changing lives. And our main reason for no longer adhering to the guidelines of the USDA was their absurd thoughts on nutrition. The required our children to have 24 oz of cow milk daily, they allow Walmart brand cookies, but not organic granola bars as a snack, they also for some reason would prefer children to eat more meat then veggies or fruits... so for some that is impossible as we have lots of vegans, vegetarians and children with sensitive digestive systems that can not handle 4 oz of meat products daily. ... it is a battle to understand their thoughts of "healthy".
In 2010 the new law passed to require EVERY public school to use a school uniform to attend public school. Children who did not have a shirt were given detention and eventually told they could not return to school. Yes!! In a state that has over 80% of their total enrollment of students on the free and reduced meal program decided to add yet another cost to the families who struggle to live. These shirts can cost upwards of $7 per shirt, per child and who has time to wash a school shirt daily? Furthermore, children who live in homeless situations do not have access to water, so their shirts rarely are cleaned. How did we find out about this problem? One of our middle school aged boys ended up in a mental facility because he attempted suicide in the school bathroom after being bullied for not having a shirt to wear. The child was sent to the principals office for not having a shirt. He was crying and stopped in the bathroom to rest. Boys teased him, and he had enough. He has recovered and doing well. Project Hawai’i, Inc. once again has created a program to FILL THE NEED and we provide EVERY child in our program with 2 school shirts their first day back and will supplement as needed. Our Back to School Program provides 100% of the needs of our homeless children to succeed in school.
In 2014, Governor IGE decided to change the age to enter Kindergarten. He did this to cut millions of dollars from the budget. Not realizing that when a child has to wait an entire year during the most developmental stages of their lives this will have an impact on society at large. Not only did this effect the families who have the means to pay for pre-school or daycare, but this effected the homeless children even more. Most homeless children do not attend a pre-school or any type of early educational programs. Therefore, when the do enter kindergarten around the age of 5 they are already far behind the basics of shapes, colors, fundamentals they learn in pre-school, but not when they enter at age 6, they rarely have the opportunity to catch up and end up in special educational classes, require special needs, and even more funding than ever before. This so called budget cut had a cost that is unmeasurable and will continue to cost the state. YAY! Once again Project Hawai’i, Inc. has the opportunity to fill yet another gap created by the state. We introduced our Mommy and Me program that works with children from birth to 2 years old, and then they attend our summer camps to assure they are learning those basic needs. In addition we have a sponsored literacy program that provides early introduction to reading.
While this story might seem so gloomy, we here at Project Hawai’i, Inc. are excited for the opportunity we have to assure our keiki are succeeding. Our nonprofit continues to run by volunteers in the community who truly want to fill a void and make an impact. The homeless children count on us, and we count on YOU.
We are always going to be public supported so we can avoid the ridiculousness of the government rules and regulations. We know the community is on the side of success. The community cares for our homeless keiki and will be there for their every need as the go along their struggles through life.
We are here from these precious children and over the decades we have seen over 1,600 homeless children escape this cycle. Annually we have teens graduate high school, go on the university and graduate 4 year programs. We are excited to see the change created on these small islands out in the middle of the pacific ocean.