Discovering Her Passion

Photo: Michelle Uemoto
Michelle Uemoto turned her life around and today she runs a nonprofit and operates a small business. – Photos: Courtesy

Find your passion.

These three words changed the course of Michelle Uemoto’s life, and they continue to motivate her every day.

Facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years, Uemoto was told by the judge presiding over her case to do some soul-searching before her sentencing hearing and to “find her passion.” That’s when the seed of a dream took hold in Uemoto’s heart. She envisioned a place where she could help women parolees and their children. Women like her.

Uemoto is a survivor who managed to break free from a crystal meth addition. It was a dark chapter of her life – a time when she didn’t have much hope.

“I’m a recovering addict, 16.5 years free of crystal meth. I come from a good family. I don’t know how I fell off, but I did. I wanted to open up a safe place for parolees to get back on their feet,” shared Uemoto.

She opened “House of Blessings” in Māʻili in 2015, later moving into a larger space in Wahiawā. House of Blessings has space for 50 beds. The nonprofit organization assists parolees, probationers, VA veterans, houseless individuals – anyone who needs help getting back on their feet and into the job market.

Along with focusing on recovery, House of Blessings also provides job training and encourages clients to find and pursue their own passions.

“I tell clients that the healing journey starts one minute, one hour, one week, one year at a time. We make individual plans for people – it’s not one-size-fits-all,” said Uemoto.

Somehow, Uemoto also found time to open up a barber shop in Nānākuli called 808 Simply Faded.

In addition to providing jobs to trained barbers, Uemoto uses her barber shop to provide training to parolees who have demonstrated an interest in, and gifting for, cutting hair.

Reflecting on her own journey, Uemoto recalls the time her father asked her, “How can you help someone when your foundation’s cracked? Until you fix your foundation, dig it all up and lay it all again, you can’t help nobody.”

Uemoto took her father’s words to heart.

“I have been working on my foundation for years. And I’m so thankful to my mom and dad for standing by my side throughout,” she said. “I love what I do. It keeps me clean and sober. I have to remember and be grateful and be humble. Every day, I’m thankful I have a passion to wake up to – and it’s to help people.”

Uemoto is intent on maintaining a firm foundation for her life, her nonprofit and her small business. So when the foundation at 808 Simply Faded needed fixing, she reached out to OHA Mālama Loans and obtained a loan to install new flooring at the barber shop.

“OHA has been wonderful. I was able to obtain a Mālama Loan when I needed it. Our floor was lifting off the ground. But I didn’t have the best credit. I went to several different institutions and couldn’t get a loan. OHA believed in me and not only was I able to obtain a $20,000 loan, their technical solutions provider also helped me review my books and showed me how to improve my credit. Now, I have the most beautiful flooring and a solid credit score.”
– Michelle Uemoto

And she’s not stopping there. Uemoto’s next goal is to open up a Therapeutic Living Program (TLP) and drug treatment program. She recently obtained a permit to convert a former nursing home in Wahiawā into a 40-bed TLP and was also able to rent a home in Nānākuli to open up a 12-bed TLP. She hopes someday to be able to open TLPs in Waiʻanae and Mākaha as well.

“I would have never thought in a million years that this is what I would be doing. I’m thankful to Judge [Virginia] Crandall when she said ʻfind your passion.’ I hope everyone finds their own passion. I think each of us can work on changing our mindsets, digging deep, finding our passion, and working every day to become a better person. And if everyone pays it forward, our world could be a better place.”