Hope and Empowerment: Lydia House Opens ‘Huliau’ to Support Vulnerable Youth

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Photo: Cathy Cruz-George

Every Tuesday through Friday, ʻōpio between the ages of 16 and 26 can drop in at Lydia House in downtown Honolulu for food, warm showers, laundry facilities, and internet access. Trained staff members stand ready to support them in trauma-informed care. Lydia House is a puʻuhonua, a safe space, for the youth. Many have ties to foster care or the juvenile justice system. Some lack stable housing options.

To guide these ʻōpio toward brighter futures, Lydia House recently unveiled Huliau, a pilot program designed to foster independence, self-discovery, and educational and career opportunities.

The application process for Huliau began in the first quarter of 2024. Eligibility is open to Native Hawaiians, ages 18-22, who commit to the program duration, ranging from one to four years.

Photo: Lydia House
Lydia House is a puʻuhonua for youth. – Courtesy Photo

“We are incredibly excited about the journey ahead and the opportunity to work closely with our kamaliʻi, the very heart and soul of our program,” says Brent Llaneza, Huliau Program Lead. “What excites me the most is witnessing the boundless potential of every one of them.”

Huliau is the result of strategic planning by Liliʻuokalani Trust, which purchased the Lydia House building at the corner of South Vineyard Street in 2018. Previously, the Trust provided services to ʻōpio, ages 18 and younger. With Huliau, the Trust can reach Opportunity Youth, ages 16-26, as they transition out of social services for minors.

Huliau’s participants can apply to live in housing on the upper levels of the building. The renovated dorm rooms feature full kitchens, common areas, private baths, and furnished bedrooms. Residents have access to the amenities in the Engagement Center on the ground floor and must take part in Lydia House’s programs.

Llaneza and his team are trained to assist in financial management, housing support, career and educational pathways, and therapy. “In our shared endeavor to nurture a thriving future, I firmly believe that it truly takes a village,” Llaneza says. “As a collective community, we have the power to empower and uplift our kamaliʻi, guiding them to realize their dreams and aspirations.”

Lydia House’s team consists of social workers who specialize in substance abuse counseling and youth case management. “We meet them where they are at,” Sonny Ferreira, leader of the Engagement Center at Lydia House said. “We’re hoping that, at the end of four years, our ʻōpio will have money saved and the critical skills they will need to further their careers and live on their own.”

What sets apart Huliau from other youth services is its culturally relevant programs rooted in Native Hawaiian values. The programs are designed to cultivate resilience and help the ʻōpio heal from past traumas, as they transition into adulthood.

Earlier this year, a group embarked on a huakaʻi to ʽIolani Palace, immersing themselves in the history of the Hawaiian monarchy — and the legacy and love of Queen Liliʻuokalani for the people of Hawaiʻi.

Holli M., a participant in the huakaʻi, said, “One value I learned on the visit was pono, to be responsible and respectful. I hope to be responsible with my schoolwork to help me live a better life.” At age 22, this marked Holli’s first visit to the palace.

Ferreira, Llaneza, and their teams are optimistic about the impact of Huliau as they continue supporting the youth. “Our hope is that our ʻōpio understand their Hawaiian identity, and discover who their ancestors are, so they can be proud,” Ferreira says.

For more information, please call Lydia House’s main line at 808-466-8022 or visit Lydiahousehi.org/huliau.


Cathy Cruz-George is on the Communications Team of Liliʻuokalani Trust.