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Teacher's woes hamper ability to care for son

The single mom worries that she will not be able to buy presents for him

By Pat Gee

LAST UPDATED: 2:02 a.m. HST, Dec 8, 2013

Melissa Ha‘o, a diabetic with severe circulation disorders, has hobbled around with a cast for the past year. She should be on crutches or in a wheelchair to allow her left foot to heal from a degenerative tissue problem, but then she wouldn't be able to chase around after her energetic toddler.

She's a single mom who left an abusive relationship a year ago and has spent many a night sleeping in her car or in a homeless shelter since then. A full-time teacher, she "makes too much money to get help anywhere" for essentials like rent or food stamps, she said.

Ha‘o picks up odd jobs to make extra money, but it's still not enough and bill collectors are threatening to garnish her wages.

"I'm constantly getting in trouble for not doing enough," she said, shaking her head. "I feel like that's the story of my life. I can't do enough for my son. I can't work enough to make enough. There's just never any getting ahead. I just feel like I'm going backwards all the time, all the time."

With her son's fourth birthday coming up on Dec. 21 and Christmas after that, there's no way she will be able to put up a tree and decorations or buy presents for him, she said.

If anyone would like to "adopt" this family or help others in need, Helping Hands Hawaii is holding its annual Adopt-a-Family Program to bring some Christmas cheer to those who are struggling.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser's annual Good Neighbor Fund is partnering with the program to collect toys, clothing and household items that can be dropped off at Helping Hands' Community Clearinghouse. Cash contributions can be made at First Hawaiian Bank branches or mailed in.

Ha‘o, a math and social studies teacher at Kawananakoa Middle School, said her son, Kensmith, has been affected by watching the arguments between his parents, living in homeless shelters, and moving around from one friend's house to another.

"He gets kinda violent in school sometimes and they want to have someone observe him. The other day he saw me crying and said, ‘Mommy, did Daddy tell you bad words again?' I said, ‘Yeah.' So he said, ‘Do we have to go sleep in the park again?' I didn't realize he remembered those things. I know he misses his dad, and as much as I failed to keep his dad in his life, I'm at the point now where I just don't want anything to do with him."

Her only relative in the state is a father living on disability insurance, who helps her when he can, she said.

A large part of her wages pays for her son's Head Start pre-school under the Honolulu Community Action Program, but she may not be able to afford the higher tuition next year, and she can't afford to send him anywhere else.

"Do I continue making the sacrifices that I do for him, or do I just quit my job and stay home with him? Honestly, it would be cheaper for me if I just quit because if I quit he gets free school and he gets free medical, and we get all kinds of assistance. … So it seems that the state just wants to help the people who aren't doing anything, not the people that are killing themselves to make life better for their children," she said.

"I'm working my a— off in three jobs. I am damaging my health, I have very little time to spend with him, I have no time for myself. I am so stressed out all the time making it to my next job … the physical toll is just so much," Ha‘o said, wiping away tears.

Her son, nicknamed "Buggy," climbed onto her lap, wrapped his arms around her and laid his head on her shoulder.

"Mom, can I cuddle?" he asked. "I love you so much."

"He tells me that all the time, especially when I'm crying. He asks me, ‘Mom, why are you sad?'"

For Christmas, "Buggy" wants a "black watch that turns me into an alien" like he sees on the cartoon, "Ben 10."


Clothing, household items and gifts can be dropped off at the Community Clearinghouse, 2100 N. Nimitz Highway, next to Puuhale Road.

Monetary gifts may be sent to the Star-Advertiser’s Good Neighbor Fund; Care of Helping Hands Hawaii; 2100 N. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu, HI 96819.

Checks made out to the Good Neighbor Fund also may be dropped off at any of First Hawaiian Bank’s branches statewide.

Call 440-3800 for more information to sign up for the Adopt-a-Family Program or to arrange for pickup of large items.

Helping Hands Hawaii’s donation warehouse hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (extended hours through December) Monday to Friday. The warehouse will also be open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays through Dec. 21.


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