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New, flexible Hawaii scholarship fund aims to ‘give these kids hope’

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Roosevelt High School graduate Zoe Oda threw her mortarboard into the air Wednesday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Roosevelt High School graduate Zoe Oda threw her mortarboard into the air Wednesday.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Myka Kukahiwa took a selfie before receiving his diploma.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Myka Kukahiwa took a selfie before receiving his diploma.

Seniors graduating from Hawaii’s public schools this month can get a boost toward their careers through a $2 million scholarship fund to be announced today that will offer flexible aid tailored to each student’s needs.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity, and we also felt like the world needs them,” said Micah Kane, president and CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation. “We want to give these kids hope, and it will translate into hope for all of us.”

The First Hawaiian Bank Foundation and the Hawaii Community Foundation each contributed $1 million to seed the Stronger Together Hawaii Scholarship Fund, and are calling on other donors to join them.

Photo Gallery: Roosevelt High School holds socially distant cap-and-gown ceremony

“We knew that the kids coming out of the 2020 class were going to be dealt a difficult hand, and so we wanted to approach it in a different way,” Kane said in an interview. “We need out-of-the-box thinking, so we felt an out-of-the-box tool was needed.”

Unlike a traditional scholarship, the Stronger Together money isn’t limited to tuition and materials for college or job training, but can also go toward emergency expenses that threaten to derail a student’s education. There is no minimum or maximum amount per student.

The scholarships will be available to public school graduates who take part in Next Steps to Your Future, a counseling and career-planning initiative offered this summer by Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education and UH community colleges. The financial aid may be used at the University of Hawaii or at other accredited college and vocational programs.

“It’s wide open,” Kane said. “There’s very few walls. We wanted to eliminate those walls and let them choose their path and see if we can support them.”

Already, 1,120 students have signed up for the Next Step Career Exploration classes, the first of which begins today. Three more sessions are scheduled, with start dates on June 8, June 22 and July 6. The deadline to sign up for the June 8 session is Thursday, with later deadlines for the others. About 670 new graduates from 52 public schools have also signed up for a personal adviser through the P-20 part of the Next Step program.

Brightlyn Ifenuk, 17, graduated from Farrington High School on Saturday and is starting her online Next Step career planning course today, with dreams of ultimately becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

“Originally, I was thinking to go to UH Hilo, but because of the whole outbreak, I decided maybe I should just start here on Oahu,” said Ifenuk, who grew up in Keaau on Hawaii island. “I decided to go to KCC since the tuition was less than UH Manoa and it would be easier on the financial side.”

She works part time at 7-Eleven, and her mother’s job hours were cut due to the pandemic, so covering rent has been a struggle. When she heard that the Next Step course she is taking could lead to a college scholarship, she was initially speechless.

“I was really shocked. I didn’t know what to say,” she said. “I’m grateful and I’m thankful that the Hawaii Community Foundation and First Hawaiian Bank are giving us this opportunity, especially for those with financial needs.”

The Next Step initiative aims to make up for the fact that this year’s senior class lost valuable months for post-high school planning when campuses closed due to the new coronavirus.

“I’d like them to be thinking long term and thinking for their future, as difficult as that is right now with the pandemic and it being in the news basically all the time,” said Bob Harrison, president and CEO of First Hawaiian Bank and chairman of its foundation. “I’d like them to think past that and know that a good education will just make so many more options available to me as I go through life.”

Kane predicted that the money needed will far exceed what’s been committed, and urged other donors to support the class of 2020 through the Stronger Together scholarship.

“We want to catch those kids who don’t have the financial capacity,” Kane said. “In many cases, once they get into higher education, it’s the small things that knock them off. It’s a flat tire they can’t fix. It’s a health care bill they can’t pay for, so they gotta stop. The program is going to address those issues as well.”

>> To learn more and sign up for Next Steps, visit uhcc.hawaii.edu/nextstep.

>> Donations to the Stronger Together Hawaii Scholarship Fund can be made at www.strongertogetherhawaii.org.

>> Online applications for the scholarship will be available in July with updates posted at www.hawaiicommunity foundation.org/students.

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