Hui Malama O Ke Kai helps instill confidence in youth for a successful voyage through life. Here, students learn canoe-sailing skills in Waimanalo Bay. Photo courtesy of Hui Malama O Ke Kai.

Nonprofit Corner: Healing Waters

After-school program helps children thrive by connecting them and their families with the ocean.

May, 2017

The Hui Malama O Ke Kai Foundation operates after-school and community programs for families in the Waimanalo area, reconnecting residents with their Native Hawaiian culture and the ocean. Its name translates to “Group that Cares for the Ocean.”

“It’s a unique program born of the community,” explains executive director Kathy Morris, 47. “A small group of concerned Waimanalo residents with ties to the ocean noticed kids were roaming the streets after school, getting in trouble. They came together in 1998 to launch an all-volunteer after-school program. It focused on grades five and six, to catch kids young enough so intervention at a later age would not be needed.

“The three core principles of the program were that it would be connected to the ocean, to the culture and there would be positive adult relationships.”

The UH medical school brought Hui Malama O Ke Kai (HMK) under the umbrella of its Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence in 1999, with project funding. HMK remained a UH project until 2008, when it transitioned into a separate nonprofit.

“The core of HMK is our Keiki After-School Program,” notes Morris, a California native who’s been at HMK since 2006. “While under UH, we were able to expand our reach from 20 students at Blanche Pope Elementary School to 20 more students at Waimanalo Elementary School.

“Through a federal grant, we were able to become self-sufficient. In 2008, we launched our Opio (adolescent) After-school Program for grades seven and eight.” Later, other programs included grades nine through 12, young adult alumni and the families of the students.

With emotion, Morris describes eight participants ages 18 to 24 “who are working within the organization and who are all first-generation college students, and who all started in the Keiki Program when they were 10 or 11. This is evidence our programs actually work.”

The nonprofit operates with about five full-time staff and 11 part-time staff, on a budget of about $450,000.
Morris is optimistic about the future. “In 2014, we acquired an 11-acre site from the former Waimanalo Teen Project nonprofit that includes two buildings. We’re in the process of developing a Hawaiian cultural and educational center there – not just for the community, but for the entire state.”

Each month, Hawaii Business profiles small and medium nonprofits that deserve more recognition.

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Jackie M. Young