Hui Mālama O Ke Kai Foundation: Teaching Keiki, Strengthening ʻOhana, Connecting a Community


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Photo: Mailelauliʻi Vickery
Executive Director Mailelauliʻi Vickery at Hui Mālama O Ke Kai’s site in Waimānalo. Credit: Shalia Kamakaokalani.

Hui Mālama O Ke Kai Foundation (HMKF) is a small organization that’s doing great things to kōkua Waimānalo, the ahupuaʻa it serves. Waimānalo residents Nani Akeo and Sharon Majit-Gorion started HMKF in 1998 as a grassroots initiative to provide the community with free culture-based after-school and family-strengthening programs. It was incorporated in 2002 and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization two years later.

Its mission is straightforward: to cultivate wellness, leadership, environmental stewardship and cultural pride and identity through the Hawaiian values of aloha (to acknowledge that which is greater than ourselves); pono (to pursue excellence and cultivate justice); ʻonipaʻa (to be steadfast, determined and firmly rooted); and mālama (to care for, honor and protect).

“It’s not a stagnant thing, it’s not enrichment, it’s foundational,” said Mailelauliʻi Vickery, HMKF’s executive director. “We encourage participants to live those words – to put them into action every day.”

During the Keiki After School Youth Development Program for fifth and sixth graders and the ʻōpio After School Leadership Program for seventh through 12th graders, kids enjoy healthy snacks, receive academic support, and learn about themselves and Hawaiian culture and history through ocean- and land-based activities. These include snorkeling, canoe paddling and caring for loʻi kalo and loko iʻa in partnership with four schools and more than a dozen cultural organizations in Windward Oʻahu.

Instructors share moʻolelo about places the students visit, and traditional protocols are followed, including oli to ask permission to enter. A primary focus is kilo, close observation, so keiki can forge a strong relationship or pilina with the world around them.

“For example, they study the waves, winds, currents and other conditions before they go into the ocean,” Vickery said. “By doing that, they recognize when it is safe to be in the water and when it is not.”

Kilo is also key for ʻāina activities. Before going into a loʻi kalo, the children learn the story of Hāloa, the taro plant, whom Native Hawaiians consider their elder brother. They learn how to conduct themselves appropriately in the preparation, planting, growing, harvesting, cleaning and cooking of kalo.

“It’s a reciprocal relationship; when we mālama kalo, it will mālama us,” Vickery said. “ʻĀina is literally that which feeds us. We incorporate moʻolelo, ʻōlelo and ʻōlelo noʻeau, so the keiki know the Hawaiian words and stories for where they are and what they are doing.”

Although the framework for the two after-school programs is identical, the Keiki curriculum serves as an introduction while ʻōpio activities build on that foundation and train young adults to be leaders.

“They’re expected to be role models,” Vickery said. “As with the Hāloa moʻolelo, the kuleana of the older siblings is to mālama the younger ones.”

Their third pillar is the ʻOhana and Kaiāulu Program, which is designed to strengthen the families of after-school program participants and the community at large. OHA awarded HMKF a two-year grant to support the annual 10- to 12-week Papahana Kālai Papa Me Pōhaku Kuʻi ʻAi workshop, where attendees are taught how to make a wooden poi board and stone poi pounder by hand, without the use of power tools.

HMKF is also using the OHA grant to host three-hour Pō Kuʻi Kalo poi-pounding classes, which prior to the pandemic, were held eight times a year.

“When COVID hit in March, we were in the midst of doing both workshops,” Vickery said. “Since all large in-person gatherings had to be cancelled, we continued instruction for Papahana Kālai Papa Me Pōhaku Kuʻi ʻAi via Zoom meetings, YouTube videos, emails, phone calls and materials we created on virtual platforms and with new technology.”

For 10 weeks in April, May and June, Kuʻi Kalo was a weekly “drive-through” event. Families went to HMKF’s facility in Waimānalo on Friday to pick up kalo and, if needed, papa and pōhaku kuʻi ʻai, so they could pound poi at home. They returned borrowed implements on Monday.

“It was wildly successful,” Vickery said. “We distributed 300 pounds of kalo per week to 100 families. We’re waiting for our loʻi partners to say they have enough kalo, so we can offer another 10-week drive-through program. The need and interest in our services hasn’t changed. We just have to be creative about the delivery.”

The pandemic also affected their Keiki and ʻōpio programs. When in-person activities were halted in March, the staff provided homework assistance via Zoom, posted news on social media platforms, dropped off activity packets at students’ homes, and made weekly phone calls to their families. When the programs ended as usual in May, in lieu of an in-person celebration, there was an on-the-road hōʻike where makana, lau confetti and mea ʻai were dropped off at participants’ homes.

After-school programs resumed in November, with in-person activities limited to four children supervised by one staff member (adjustments will be made to follow state and federal guidelines and recommendations of the CDC).

“Yes, we are in challenging times, but we plan to continue our efforts to strengthen connections between keiki and their ʻohana and the Waimānalo community,” Vickery said. “Our hope is to serve as many people that we can, to improve what we’re doing and keep evolving. We envision our 11-acre facility being a hub. Hoʻoulu ka lāhui is what it’s all about.”

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi has written 12 books and countless newspaper, magazine and website articles about Hawaiʻi’s history, culture, food and lifestyle.

Hui Mālama O Ke Kai Foundation

Hui Mālama O Ke Kai Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that operates on grants and donations. To make a tax-deductible contribution online, go to: You can also mail a check to the organization; the address is 41-477 Hīhīmanu Street, Waimānalo, Hawaiʻi 96795.

HMKF’s ʻOhana and Kaiāulu Program – which pre-COVID-19 featured monthly events such as Makahiki games, yoga and cooking classes, and “talk story” with members of the Maunakea kiaʻi – is resuming slowly. For more information, call 259-2030, email or visit