Heroes Next Door: Magin Patrick helps keiki all year long
Magin Patrick knows all too well what it’s like to sleep in cars and forage through dumpsters for food.
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There’s a convenient narrative for those who seek such things.
True, Magin Patrick grew up in an unstable home. She and her siblings were, in fact, displaced and scattered across foster homes and group facilities. Yes, Patrick knows all too well what it’s like to sleep in cars and forage through dumpsters for food.
And if that’s what it takes for someone to understand why she’s devoted her life to helping homeless children, Patrick isn’t one to begrudge a little connecting of dots. Just understand that it’s not the kind of pat psychoanalytical insight she cares to buy or sell.
“It’s not what I do,” Patrick says of the work she does through her nonprofit organization Project Hawai‘i. “It’s who I am. I help children because that’s what I was born to do, just like other people might be born to be artists or musicians.”
HEROES NEXT DOOR
We recently asked readers to help shine a light on the good works of a few true unsung heroes. Readers responded with nominees from divergent walks of island life who share a common desire to help others. Star-Advertiser editors chose five Heroes Next Door who will be highlighted in stories through Dec. 30.
Click here to read more profiles.
Patrick established her first nonprofit organization to serve homeless youth when she was still a teenager in the Bay Area, a response to the shuttering of group homes and facilities serving the mentally ill during the 1980s. Despite her own challenges, Patrick made her way to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in social psychology from Sacramento State.
Patrick, 49, founded Project Hawai‘i shortly after she moved to Hawaii in 2002. Her initial focus was providing food, presents and a bit of uplift to children living in homeless encampments on Oahu and Hawaii island during the major holidays.
“At Easter, I’d deliver baskets for all the kids but something didn’t make sense,” Patrick said. “It didn’t feel right turning and walking away. They might have something for April, but then what about May and June?”
Despite a full-time job working for the Cultural Institute of America, which specializes in organizing cultural-exchange programs, and raising her four children, Patrick began making weekly trips to a homeless community in Puu Maile to feed the 79 children who lived there.
With the help of husband Cliff Kama and a dedicated group of volunteers, Project Hawai‘i has since grown to include a full calendar of programs and activities aimed not just at addressing immediate needs and providing transient relief but helping homeless children develop the skills, understanding and confidence they need to escape poverty and attain a secure future for themselves.
Each summer, for example, Project Hawai‘i sponsors a free summer program that includes a sleepover camp on Hawaii island, an adventure day camp on Oahu and a weeklong program for teen leaders that focuses on cultural learning, workshops, leadership classes and bonding exercises. The program also provides volunteer opportunities for university students and participants in the state’s First to Work program. At the end of the camps, children are sent off with fully stocked backpacks and back-to-school clothes.
Project Hawai‘i’s signature Christmas celebration, designed to raise the self- esteem and self-worth of homeless children, has also expanded. On Hawaii island, 350 homeless children are invited to a holiday party that includes a hot meal, games, crafts and a visit from Santa Claus, who brings gifts for which the children have specifically asked. This last detail is important, Patrick said, because it gives children a sense of being individually recognized and loved and fosters a belief in Christmas magic in kids who may never have had Christmas gifts or a tree to put them under. On Oahu, volunteers fan out across the island to deliver food and gifts to as many homeless children as they can locate.
Under Patrick’s guidance, Project Hawai‘i, which is run entirely by volunteers and receives no government funding, also provides regular outreach to homeless communities, including passing out food and hygiene boxes or sometimes gift cards for those who are regularly displaced.
Patrick said the enormity of the homeless problem in Hawaii is daunting but her hands-on, slippers-on-the-ground approach keeps her from feeling overwhelmed.
“Sometimes I do get frustrated, but then I’ll see kids that I worked with as children and they’ll come to me and say, ‘Aunty, I’m graduating’ or ‘Aunty, I’m going to college,’” she said. “Sometimes, I’ll hear, ‘Aunty, I have a job interview and I need clothes.’ They’re breaking the cycle of poverty and that’s what compels me to keep going.”