Hometown Heroes: Nonprofits, agencies and volunteers ensure West Hawaii keiki are ready to learn

  • Mike Fraser, president of the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise, drops his donated backpack into the “school bus” at Papa Kona Restaurant and Bar.

  • Of the 49 children eligible for the new backpack, 22 will be attending elementary school, 10 will be attending middle school, and 17 will be attending high school. Each backpack was filled with the necessary school supplies provided by a grant from The Friends of Hawaii Charities. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The West Hawaii Community Health Center provided various screenings for participants during the fifth annual Back to School Bash held July 24 at Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini. (Courtesy photos/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The Big Island Beauty Academy gave children and adults free haircuts during the fifth annual Back to School Bash held July 24 at Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scores of West Hawaii students are returning to classrooms ready for the school year, thanks to backpack drives and other events put on by nonprofits, agencies and volunteers.

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Malama I Na Keiki Hanai, a local nonprofit whose mission is to support and empower foster care children in West Hawaii, recently held a backpack drive in partnership with Papa Kona.

The drive’s goal was to ensure every Big Island foster care child returning to school this week does so with a new backpack. The effort ended in late July with the results exceeding the initial goal. The restaurant offered those making a donation a 20% discount off their next visit.

“We were happy to do that. Foster care in Hawaii is really important to us — it’s such a worthy cause,” said Papa Kona general manager Julia Pittman. “Allowing foster kids to get off on the same foot as everybody else when they start school is just so important for their confidence.”

Pittman said other nonprofits interested in partnering can email her at julia@papakona.com.

“We just want to give back where we can,” she said.

Of the 49 children eligible for the new backpack, 22 will be attending elementary school, 10 will be attending middle school, and 17 will be attending high school. Each backpack was filled with the necessary school supplies provided by a grant from The Friends of Hawaii Charities.

“Through support of this project, our local community has indicated its support for any child living in a Foster Care home who will be either attending their first school year or returning for their senior year,” Bev Fraser with Malama I Na Keiki Hanai said in a prepared statement.

Another event, the fifth annual Back to School Bash held July 24 in Kailua-Kona, supported 150 children who reside with their families at Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini and another 60 kieki through the Family Assessment Center program headed back to school.

Thirteen partners came together providing gift cards, hair cuts, children’s activities and prizes, health screenings, diapers, toiletries, clothing school supplies, and more. Among the partners were the Jonathan Dale Miller Foundation, Big Island Beauty Academy, Neighborhood Place of Kona, Family Support Hawaii’s Fatherhood Initiative, West Hawaii Community Health Center, HPM, and the Ma’i Movement.

“It was so welcomed because this was the first community event we’ve had since our COVID shutdown last February. The kids were thrilled and the families so happy to be back to ‘semi-normal’ life at Ulu Wini,” said Toni Symons, service program director at Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini. “The kids have grown so much this last year and it was so wonderful to have the additional Family Assessment Center program and the families they have been serving be a part of the day.”

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For more information on Malama I Na Keiki Hanai, contact Bev Fraser at (808) 936-9965.

Know a Hometown Hero who should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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