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Family hopes for better Christmas

By Pat Gee

LAST UPDATED: 10:36 p.m. HST, Dec 13, 2010


» Alia Kerr, Malcolm Kerr and Mari Morikawa donated $100 to the Star-Advertiser's Good Neighbor Fund. In an earlier version of this story, the list below gave a wrong last name for Morikawa and said they donated $50.


By sticking to a stringent budget and supporting one another, an immigrant family has managed to move beyond homelessness and the severe disabilities of two of its members.

Lefui and Mau Simi came to Hawaii from American Samoa in 2006 with their four children to seek medical treatment, unavailable in their homeland, for their eldest daughter. Mau Simi said her husband also suffers from epilepsy and diabetes, which impairs his vision and ability to walk. Her son, 12, also is disabled and needs to be supervised at all times, she added.

With her husband unable to work, and Mau Simi the primary caregiver, the family depends on government aid and assistance from charitable agencies. Her children realize their financial hardships, but still yearn for fashionable clothes and shoes.

They hope to celebrate a genuine Christmas through the Adopt-A-Family holiday program of Helping Hands Hawaii, which tries to lift the spirits of those who are struggling year-round. The Star-Advertiser's annual Good Neighbor Fund works on behalf of Helping Hands to raise funds and collect material goods requested by the needy.

When they first decided to move to Hawaii, Simi believed the high cost of living would be prohibitive.

"It was a big difference," she said. "In Samoa, we didn't have any hard time."

At first they stayed with a cousin in Waipahu, then after a few months moved into one transitional shelter after another. At a shelter in Waianae they learned how to budget their money and acquired other skills to become independent.

"We were the only family to go through all their programs," Mau Simi said. "I volunteered a lot with what there was to do, even my husband. I learned a lot.

"That's how we got a house, a place of our own," she added.

Her caseworker "helped me a lot," she said. "He was just like a father to me. He said don't think about shop shop shop. You gotta think about save, save, save."

The case worker also convinced her that she could afford the rent if they stuck to a budget.

"My husband was so happy," Simi said. "We're a very happy family. I can't believe we got this far."

The close-knit family works together to help one another with caregiving. Her oldest daughter is studying to become a nurse, her second daughter wants to go into the military, and another would like to be a teacher, she said.

"They're always telling me and my husband, they're not going to leave us struggle -- that when they have jobs, they will always help us," Simi said.

When they went shopping the other day, "I kind of had a down feeling. My daughter said, 'Mom, there's Christmas trees over there.' I said, 'I can't afford it right now.' She said, 'Mom, we've never had a Christmas tree since we've been in Hawaii.'"

The hardest thing is not being able to buy her teenage girls -- 19, 17 and 14 -- the clothes and shoes they're always asking for, Simi added. She would like a rice cooker; her husband, an artificial Christmas tree; and her son, a stand-up paddleboard.

"My dream for this Christmas is to have a better Christmas than last year. I really want my kids to be happy and get what they want," she said.

The last time the Simis had a real celebration was two years ago when a family "adopted" them.

"I was crying and crying. It was so beautiful; that was a special blessing for my whole family. Last year was kind of sad. We weren't adopted. There were paperwork problems, but the church gave us something," Simi said.

Recent donations to the Good Neighbor Fund:

W.W. and B.J. McGill $1,500
George K. Iwanaga $1,000
T.J. and S.W. Ocasek $1,000
Thomas A. and Jill M. Beaupre $600
Jerry and Lis Ranges $513
Taye Tashiro $500
Pearl City Community Church $500
Shari W. Chang $500
Sharon B. Matson $400
On behalf of Tuesday Connections $300
Robert Gibson $300
Louise N. Matsushige $300
Sam K. Yee $300
In Memory of Capt. Gabriel Garduque, Remedious, Marcos Garduque, "Big Papa" Simeon Sr., Victoria, Esther, Samuel and Simeon Jr., Amor $250
In Loving Memory of Akira Amakawa $250
In Loving Memory of Violet Kim $200
In Loving Memory of Larry Maloney $200
In Loving Memory of Hilda Yonezawa $200
In Memory of Audrey Pool Kelly $200
In Memory of Jake Poei $150
Steve, Nathan, Sam, Bishop, Lynn $150
Robert and Kiyono Au $150
Charlotte E. Blubaugh $150
David E. Cantor $150
James E. Edington $100
Francis Hiroshi and Jo Ann Y. Fukumoto $100
Barny H. Gomes $100
Alma I. Kidoguchi $100
Marc A. Kowalski $100
Gilbert Lum $100
Ellen S. Mann $100
Judith and Melfried Olson $100
Salvatore and Sheila Pagliaro $100
Jennifer Seibold $100
Gary T. Shiraki $100
Kenji and Kathleen Sumida $100
Tatsuo and Irene Suzuki $100
Jerry Tamanaha $100
Joanne Tetsutani $100
Chadwick and Gayle Wong $100
The Wong Family $100
Andy Yamaguchi and Cheryl Ernst $100
Darryl, Paula, Sam and Lucky Yonezawa $100
Kim's Grand- & Great-Grandchildren $100
Maris and Misha Tasaka and Taylor Tajiri $100
Daniel T. Benedict $100
In Memory of My Son Eyvinn $100
In Memory of Ric and Frances $100
In Memory of Patsy Nishimura $100
In Memory of Keiko Rachmaninoff $100
In Memory of Paul Schrader from Chuck and B.J. Schrader $100
Laurie Jorgensen $100
Takenobu and Carol Kadena $100
Ethel S. and Glenn Y. Masui $100
M. McCabe $100
Robert K. and Nancy S. Moritomo $100
Herbert and Jane Niitsuma $100
Donald M. and Alma Y.C. O'Day $100
Keiki and Lucy Pang $100
Karl and Elizabeth Scholl $100
From the Shinmoto Grandkids $100
Masaichi and Toshiko Tasaka $100
Raymond and Lorraine Tasaka $100
Alice and William Wood $100
Alice S. Yasutake $100
May Murakami $100
Clarence Y F Liu $100
Leland, Lexi, Sydney and Taylor $100
John G. and Theres Bowers Rivera $100
Soon OK and Arthur M. Morimoto $100
Clyde N. and Evelyn M. Swindell $100
In Memory of Stanley P. Hu $100
Yogi Bears $100
Clayton and Doreen Ayakawa $75
Thomas and Ethel Fragas $75
Tee Harmon $75
Leslie A. and Yoshio Hayashi $69
Alan H. Kawamoto $50
Scott Matsuoka $50
Harry Y. and Leatrice A. Shinno $50
Helena M. Tibbs $50
Cynthia K. Tsujiuchi $50
Laura Ushijima $50
In Memory of Lois Odo $50
Georgia Anne Smith $50
Tina Boreho $50
Dori Weymouth $50
Akiyo Kitagawa $50
Yasuo Nakahira $50
Edward Yasuda $50
Larry M. Okuda $50
Alia Kerr, Malcolm Kerr and Mari Morikawa $100
Betty H. Harimoto $50
Alvin K.S. Chock $40
In Memory of Grandma and Grandpa Ikenage $35
In Memory of Mr. & Mrs. Yoshimura $30
Patti L. Tildsley $30
Lynn R. Rogers $30
Margaret Higa $30
Mrs. Armitee G. Brunner $30
In Memory of George & Rachel Kagehiro from Joy & Adam Higashino $25
Charles & Susan Pignataro $25
Adrian Kin Lee $25
Kyle Flores $25
Ida M. Holtsinger $25
William K.C. Wong $25
Contemporary Gardens, Inc. $25
Sabrina, Robert, Brooke Oyadomari $25
Mary Chang Fong & Robyn SJ Fong $25
Marian Bernal $25
F.K. Sekiya and Patricia M.C. Sekiya $25
Vivian M.S. Lee $25
In Loving Memory of Kabuki Rodrigues $20
In Memory of Janet Tsutomi $20
In Memory of Kenji Tsutomi $20
In Memory of Richard and Karen Tsutomi $10
Wong Kong Har Tong of Hawaii $10
Ronald and Manjit Reddick $10
Barbara Wilmore $5
Joyce Lau $5
Katsuichi Matsumoto $5
April Leong and Robert Tanaka $2
Anonymous (21 donors) $940

Total $17,329
Total to date $32,209

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