Aloha United Way helps families stay out of poverty
After waiting 60 years for a Department of Hawaiian Home Lands lot to build their home, Keonaona Salis and his family finally felt like they won the lottery.
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After waiting 60 years for a Department of Hawaiian Home Lands lot to build their home, Keonaona Salis and his family
finally felt like they won the lottery.
Three years ago the
family was awarded land from the DHHL, created to administer public lands to Native Hawaiians as part of the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.
But the family was soon disappointed.
They did not have the means to build a house and would not qualify for a loan of $300,000 to $500,000.
“Eventually, reality set in where we’re not financially ready,” said Salis,
36, whose father was on the list since 1959. “That was way out of our reach, and we thought that was the end of the line for us.”
The family, who had been living in public housing and was once homeless, nearly gave up. That’s when Aloha United Way stepped in.
The grant-making agency connected the
family with a financial literacy program through the nonprofit Hawaiian Community Assets, workforce training via the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, and
Honolulu Habitat for Humanity, which helped them build their own home to keep construction costs down.
AUW’s latest program for the Asset Limited,
Employed, or ALICE population, helps families like Salis’ — living just above the federal poverty level but below financial stability — get out of the danger zone.
In January, AUW committed to fund 10 local nonprofits through a three-year grant of more than $1.5 million annually to collaborate in improving the financial stability of this population before they fall into poverty. An estimated 48% of Hawaii households are living either in or near poverty and struggling to make ends meet, the agency said.
“The middle class is shrinking, and more and more people are becoming financially vulnerable,”
said AUW president and CEO Cindy Adams. “When people, families, individuals are so worried every month about how they’re going to make ends meet, what bills they’re going to pay, how they’re going to put food
on the table, it creates an enormous amount of
stress, and worries contribute to chronic health issues. AUW has the flexibility to move upstream to serve families and individuals in our community for whom there are very limited and very few programs and services available. This is a very focused and intentional effort to look at the financial challenges for ALICE families and understand what we can do to help them be much more resilient.”
This is the first time
local nonprofits have had an opportunity to collaborate to move an entire
population toward stability, said Jim Murphy, executive director of Honolulu Habitat for Humanity.
“Nonprofits are almost
always in survival mode, so we’re not really incentivized to collaborate all that much,” he said. “The fact that we’re collaborating within AUW … it’s not
necessarily just what can Habitat do, but what can
we as a collaborative
do to move the needle
for a selected demographic.”
and philanthropist Peter Buffett, the son of American billionaire Warren Buffett, was here to perform at a concert last month and toured the three nonprofits helping Salis as part of a
15-city tour across the nation. His nonprofit, NoVo Foundation, has partnered with United Way to implore people to invest in their communities.
“For me the United Way partnership is really a
personal learning journey. I‘m sure we’ll end up supporting various projects in different ways, but really it’s a chance for us to learn,” said Buffett,
who uses his concerts
as a way to encourage residents to give back to their local communities. “Part
of my message is to say to people in the community who have the resources that the community you’re in is the most important thing you can invest in.
It doesn’t even have to
be money. It can be time and expertise — to really think in these unstable times the best thing you can do is know your neighbor, be able to take care of your own and take care of the people in your community.”