PAHOA — A block party held in Pahoa last week gave lower Puna residents a chance to reconnect with each other and celebrate their home that remains scarred by last year’s Kilauea eruption.
“The best part about it is seeing everyone come back together and enjoy themselves,” said Pahoa business owner Amedeo Markoff, who was selling merchandise.
The event, titled “Activate Puna,” included music, food and more. Two murals also were unveiled leading up to the community party, and hundreds of “Puna Strong” flags designed by residents fluttered in the air near the main stage.
“There’s so much to celebrate in our community one year after our lava flow,” said Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who helped spearhead the event.
“It’s a really resourceful and resilient community. …We want to bring that all together and share it with the broader community.”
She said she hopes the May 11 event can be used as a model for other communities on the island to do something similar to showcase themselves. Another event, Taste of Puna, is being organized for the fall to showcase local farmers.
A man who lost his home in Leilani Estates said the event shows the community’s strength.
“Together, we’re brothers,” said the man, who gave his name as Kahu Eh. “Divided we’re fools. I don’t see any fools around here.”
Markoff, owner of Puna Gallery and Gift Emporium, noted the town continues to suffer economically, though the eruption ended more than eight months ago. He said the event helps show that Pahoa is “open for business.”
“The rest of the island has moved on but Puna is still in crisis,” Markoff said.
One of the people trying to change that is Gilbert Aguinaldo, who is building a visitor and community center on his property across Highway 130 from the Pahoa High School. It’s the same site where Puuhonua o Puna hosted “the Hub,” which served displaced residents during the eruption.
Aguinaldo said the center will showcase all of Puna’s history, not just the eruptions, and he hopes to have a soft opening in June.
“How are we going to rebuild?” he said. “How are we going to help one another? The cultural center is the backbone.”
Donations for the event came from Hawaii County Department of Research and Development, Hawaii Community Foundation, First Hawaiian Bank, Honsador Lumber, and others.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.