Need is great, but challenges remain

By Gordon Y.K. Pang, Advertiser Staff Writer
The Honolulu Advertiser: Saturday, November 4, 2006

Gregrey Kim lacked direction after another stint at O'ahu Community Correctional Center, the result of what he described as "living a corrupt life."

Alu Like Inc.'s Ho'ala Hou program, designed to help primarily Hawaiian inmates and those at risk of criminal activity, gave Kim the guidance he needed. The program helped Kim with his paperwork, helped him find clothes, counseled him on reaching peace with family and friends — and got him a job interview with Akahi Services Inc.

Kim, 28 and now a full-time renovations laborer, won the landscape contracting company's employee of the month award in July. Eventually, he said, he wants to counsel teens.

Without Alu Like, "I don't know if I would've got this job," Kim said. "I kind of lost faith already."

Kim is among the thousands who have received assistance from Alu Like, which next month celebrates 30 years of providing a step up for Hawaiians and others who want to gain self-sufficiency.

But Alu Like and other organizations whose primary mission is to help the Hawaiian community say they are facing a challenging time, with the need for assistance as high as it's ever been. At the same time, Alu Like, like other social service agencies, is facing stiffer competition for federal and state dollars.

The organization's annual budget climbed to as much as $20 million before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, but has hovered at about $3 million below that for several years, said Mervina Cash-Ka'eo, Alu Like president and chief executive officer. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, in the current year, is earmarking $750,000 toward Alu Like programs, according to OHA administrator Clyde Namu'o.

Namu'o said the state Legislature, beginning this year, is requiring OHA to award its human-services contract through competitive bidding. Alu Like, which traditionally performed those services, was the only provider to bid on the contract this past year, he said. "This may not be the case in the future."


James Pakele fights his emotions as he recounts memories of growing up in a poor household, during a storytelling and drawing event at Ke Ola Pono No Na Kupuna, Alu Like's kupuna program. Alu Like serves an estimated 27,000 people a year through seven divisions.

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Thanks in large part to Alu Like's Ho'ala Hou program, Gregrey Kim found work as a landscape renovation specialist with Akahi Services.

Ruth Hinol shows a picture she drew of a happy memory — the pride her father showed when she was chosen to be Miss Chinese in her sixth-grade elementary school class — during a storytelling and drawing event at Ke Ola Pono No Na Kupuna, Alu Like's kupuna program.

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"Living on soft money is always challenging," said David Lovell, Alu Like board chairman. "You're always wondering where the next dollar is going to come from, and a lot of people depend on our services."

Cash-Ka'eo said that Alu Like has been working on a plan to achieve self-sufficiency so that it can ease its reliance on federal and state dollars.

A for-profit arm designed to generate income for the nonprofit programs is being started.

Among the ventures being looked at are digitization of documents and development of high-tech items for the Department of Defense. Alu Like is currently working to bring personnel on board trained to work on such projects, Cash-Ka'eo said.

"In about a year, we should be up and running," she said.

Alu Like is the oldest and largest of the nonprofit social-service agencies that target the Hawaiian community outside of the socalled "ali'i trusts," which were left with large endowments by their royal benefactors. Alu Like got its first grant from the federal Administration for Native Americans in 1976 — a modest $125,000 for an employment assistance program.

Today, Alu Like runs on a $17 million annual operating budget and serves an estimated 27,000 people a year through seven divisions, according to the organization's 2004 annual report, the latest it has on file.

While statistics show some socio-economic gains by Hawaiians, other numbers show they remain in the lower rung of many categories. Supporters of Alu Like and other groups geared toward helping Hawaiians say that is why preference programs are still needed.

Among the statistics they point to are those in a study put out by Kamehameha Schools last year showing that Hawaiians, as a whole, continue to lag behind the rest of the state in social, economic, physical, emotional and cognitive well-being despite recent gains.

"Anything that organizations like Alu Like can do to advocate for and support Hawaiian families is much needed because of the chilling statistics we see in various socio and economic indicators," said Shawn Malia Kana'iaupuni, director of Kamehameha's Policy Analysis and System Evaluation team.

"These statistics haven't really changed in the last 50 years since statehood. It's going to take at least that long to reverse the trend and we can see Hawaiians achieving greater well-being."

Co-founder Winona Rubin, herself a former human-services director, said the sheer increase in the population of Hawaiians also reinforces the need for Alu Like to continue its work.

Lovell said the growing number of clients served by the organization shows it is still greatly needed.

"With the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, our services become more critical," Lovell said. "This is why if anything were to happen to our services, the entire community would feel the effects, not just those people being served by Alu Like. It has a farther reach than most people realize."

Lillian Koller, the state's director of human services, said her department collaborates with the organization on a number of programs from childcare to promoting healthy lifestyles.

"There's no question that the Native Hawaiians are ... among the neediest populations that we serve," Koller said. "They are overrepresented in our child welfare programs ... they're also overrepresented on our welfare assistance and welfare rolls."

But programs designed primarily to help a distinct ethnic population like Hawaiians have their detractors.

Among them is Ken Conklin, a researcher for Aloha For All, a taxpayer group that has filed a lawsuit challenging Hawaiians' preference programs.

Conklin said he has no doubt groups like Alu Like have helped Hawaiians, and he applauded the organization's establishment of an online Hawaiian library.

"I think that government financing of social services should be open to people regardless of race," Conklin said. Some of Alu Like's programs are restricted only to Hawaiians as required by federal funding sources. Others are not.

"If they come to us for help and we're unable to help them within our scope that is dictated by the federal government, then we try to find them another avenue to get help," Lovell said.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at

Article courtesy of The Honolulu Advertiser & its Staff:
Gordon Y.K.Pang, Reporter/Staff Writer
Mark Platte, Editor
Bruce Asato, Photographer