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2012 SmallBiz Success Awards

18 Hawaii small businesses are finalists for Hawaii Business magazine's SmallBiz Success Awards

(page 7 of 8)

Matt Hamabata, executive director, says The Kohala Center
grew from a survey asking what would make the Big Island
community a happier and healthier place. 
Photo: David Croxford

Small Nonprofit Winner:
The Kohala Center

Education, environment, empowerment. The Kohala Center’s motto covers a lot, yet the Big Island nonprofit is delivering.

Founded in 2001, the Kamuela-based organization has made wide-ranging progress: planting school gardens, propagating Hawaiian plants and supporting Hawaii’s families, farmers, ranchers and fishermen.

The center grew out of a community health project in 1999 and 2000 in which Hawaii Island residents were asked what would make their community a happier, healthier place, explains executive director Matt Hamabata. Faced with what he called dreadful statistics – rising rates of diabetes, obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence – the residents wanted greater investments in education and economic opportunities instead of another diabetes treatment center or domestic violence shelter.

“Their answers require a fundamental shift in the way we live our lives,” Hamabata says.

Roberta Chu, senior VP and Hawaii Island manager at Bank of Hawaii, based in Hilo, is president of The Kohala Center’s board. “Their work is to gather, analyze and use data from hands-on, in-the-community work to help design policies and come up with a vision,” Chu says. “It’s apolitical, which to me is something interesting.”

Some of the organization’s programs have been so successful they have been expanded statewide, including the school gardens, a project that was adopted at 59 schools and produced an estimated 15,000 pounds of food in the 2010-2011 school year, according to the center. That enables the schools to serve healthy, locally grown food.

Chu says The Kohala Center’s involvement with caring for the reef at Kahaluu Beach Park in Kona started out with one grant, but has grown into a 10-year contract with Hawaii County to create the Kahaluu Bay Education Center. The center and the county will work together to enhance the natural environment of Kahaluu Bay through educational, public outreach and research efforts, the center’s website explains.

The organization, through the Laulima Center, also helps farmers, ranchers and fisherman form cooperatives to buy supplies at lower prices, share heavy equipment or processing facilities, and market goods collectively.

The Kohala Center has a research advantage, Hamabata says, because the Big Island is a small version of the planet. “If we can find solutions to the challenges we face, we could be a model for the country.”

-Jolyn Okimoto Rosa

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