Providing Hope, Healing and Transformation


Two OHA grants support the work of the Big Island Substance Abuse Council

“Ua ola loko i ke aloha; Love gives life within.”
Love is imperative to one’s mental and physical welfare.
– ʻŌlelo Noʻeau

They inspire individuals to reclaim and enrich their lives by harnessing the strengths that lie within each person. It’s rewarding work, with benefits that can far outweigh a paycheck.

“Substance abuse and mental health are often stigmatized, but the more awareness we can bring to the topic, the more people will be accepting and willing to get help,” said Dr. Hannah Preston-Pita, chief executive officer at the Big Island Substance Abuse Council (BISAC), where she has led the organization for more than 10 years.

“The best thing about our work is seeing our lāhui thrive – that people have hope, transform, and then be able to make a difference in their own life, in the lives of their ʻohana and in their community. It is such a good feeling to see these changes.”

Created in 1956 by the Rev. Gerald Loweth of the Rector Church of the Holy Apostles in Hilo as the Big Island Committee on Alcoholism to assist struggling alcoholics, the committee acquired government funding and officially established the Big Island Substance Abuse Council in 1964.

Over the years the organization expanded its scope of services from alcoholism counseling to a small halfway house to now being a distinguished Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities accredited program addressing substance abuse and mental health issues. Today, BISAC is a multi-million dollar organization committed to serving not just Hawaiʻi County but the State of Hawaiʻi.

BISAC’s services include a 24-hour Therapeutic Living Program (TLP), intensive outpatient treatment, and running a clean and sober house.

More than just an ʻŌiwi leader, CEO Preston-Pita is the living definition of a “Hawaiian Hammah.” The Kamehameha Schools graduate has two doctoral degrees – one in clinical psychology and the other in transformational educational leadership. A former Native Hawaiian Health Care Scholar, she has served on numerous boards such as Mental Health of America and Hui Mālama Ola Nā ʻŌiwi and currently serves on Hawaiʻi County’s Status of Women Committee.

Highly involved in community relations, she specializes in treating rural underserved populations and authors children’s books and therapeutic tools on topics like anger management and self-esteem as her spare-time hobby.

This fiscal year BISAC was awarded two OHA grants – a $150,000 ʻOhana and Community Based Grant and a $150,000 COVID-19 Impact Response Grant.

“The Big Island Substance Abuse Center provides excellent service with a therapeutic living treatment program for Native Hawaiian adults who were previously incarcerated and offers wraparound services to support continued sobriety. Their work for the lāhui equips Native Hawaiians with skills and coping mechanisms for long-term recovery and success to reintegrate into the community,” said OHA Grants Officer Angela Lopes.

“The COVID-19 grant’s purpose is to implement a COVID-19 operational plan – monitoring, communication, and continuity of care – that ensures compliance with the Center for Disease Control, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service, Department of Health and best practices and mitigates gaps in services and meets needs,” Preston-Pita said.

“Funds will be utilized to provide personal protective equipment, incidentals for individuals from prison, providing bunk beds to comply with new licensing COVID-19 requirements, and providing mobile service to rural underserved areas.”

Preston-Pita said the ʻOhana and Community Based Grant will provide therapeutic living treatment to adults previously incarcerated with the intention of providing wrap-around services to support clients’ continued sobriety such as mental health services and vocational training.

“The Therapeutic Living Program is a structured 24-hour staffed facility providing ongoing evaluation, care, life skills training, self-help, encouragement, transportation to social activities and therapeutic services,” Preston-Pita said.

“There is also a specialized TLP for Pregnant, Parenting, Women and Children program that provides a variety of case management and treatment services focused on women with children in order to ensure the wellbeing of the mother and to establish a safe, solid and nurturing foundation for the children to grow.”

Preston-Pita said she was grateful to OHA for the assistance provided in serving the community.

“These grants will allow us to prepare to move toward a one-stop-shop and have a micro-unit campus that will expand the number of individuals that we treat from 24 to 100. They will also permit us to provide needed services to those individuals who don’t have the resources or means to be in treatment.

“I believe that OHA’s programs help address issues in our community that have the greatest need and provide the foundation to help improve the overall health and wellness of our lāhui.

“Mahalo nui loa OHA for your continued support.”

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs Grants Program supports Hawaiʻi-based community organizations that have projects, programs and initiatives that serve the lāhui in alignment with OHA’s Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan. A record total of $16 million was awarded in fiscal year 2021.