Strengthening ʻOhana on Molokaʻi

Photo: Maui Family Support Services
MFSSʻ Hoʻowaiwai Kaiāulu MFSS’ Hoʻowaiwai Kaiāulu Project-Moloka‘i is strengthening the wellbeing of Native Hawaiian ʻohana and keiki. - Photos: Courtesy

An OHA grant is helping Maui Family Support Services bolster Molokaʻi families

“ʻIke aku, ʻike mai, kōkua aku, kōkua mai; pela iho la ka nohona ʻohana.
Recognize and be recognized, help and be helped; such is family life.”
Family life requires an exchange of mutual help and recognition.

There’s no denying the importance of ʻohana as a Native Hawaiian cultural value.

ʻOhana is instrumental to community empowerment. When families are strong and healthy, they can thrive. The connections that Native Hawaiians have to their culture and land begin with the connections within their own families.

No wonder then, that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan 2020-2035 includes three foundations – ʻohana, moʻomeheu (culture) and ʻāina (land and water) – and recognizes that these foundations have the power to affect the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians.

“OHA’s funding helps to support the foundational principles that make our communities strong, said Edeluisa Baguio-Larena, the chief executive officer for Maui Family Support Services, Inc. (MFSS).

“This support helps families to meet their needs and connect with each other, learn about their culture and what makes them who they are, and helps them to not just learn about the land, but how to build a relationship with the land – which helps families build their future and increase their self-sufficiency and sustainability.”

MFSS is currently using a $41,199 OHA grant to help fund its Hoʻowaiwai Kaiāulu Project: Molokaʻi. The project provides a continuum of programs intended to strengthen the physical and mental wellbeing of Native Hawaiian ʻohana and keiki, increase their social and emotional competence, and improve ʻohana strengths and resilience.

The Hoʻowaiwai Kaiāulu program, which also provides services on Maui, includes an Outreach and Resource Specialists (OARS) component which identifies families in need of support and provides community referrals to services.

Photo: MFSS Staff with a keiki
MFSS’ Hoʻowaiwai Kaiāulu Home Visiting component uses the “Parents as Teachers” model.

Hoʻowaiwai Kaiāulu Home Visiting (HKHV) provides in-person or virtual services to families who are pregnant or who have children ages 0-5. This component utilizes the Parents as Teachers model and incorporates Hawaiian culture providing child health and development information and group activities for parents and children.

Additionally, a Kāne Connections arm provides support groups for men and parents via Hui Kāne and Kamālama Parenting Groups.

OHA funding for Hoʻowaiwai Kaiāulu Molokaʻi services are used for direct staffing costs and are a portion of the total costs of the program, which is also funded by the Native Hawaiian Education Program of the federal U.S. Department of Education.

Baguio-Larena said the key to the success of their program is the direct service staff that are helping the Molokaʻi community. “They are the ones who are really making a difference in the community,” she said.

That staff includes Quality Care for Hawaiian Keiki Program Director Daphne Ladia, a 20-year MFSS veteran who was raised on Molokaʻi; Zelia “Dutchess” Wills, a graduate of Molokaʻi High School who serves as an outreach and resource specialist and family support worker; Samuel Holi who is a parent support specialist, a graduate of the MFSS Kane Connections program, and the MFSS 2019 Father of the Year; and Cordy Racadio, a parent support specialist who assists the Molokaʻi community virtually through the online Kamālama Parent Groups program.

Baguio-Larena said the Molokaʻi community is one of a kind and that it has been important to be able to gain the confidence of the island residents.

“Molokaʻi is definitely unique,” she said. “The Hawaiian culture is rich and prevalent. The way of life has a different focus for many families on Molokaʻi compared to Maui. There is a higher reliance on and connection to the ʻāina and because resources are limited, families rely on each other and creative ways to meet their needs – often working together to support each other.

“The community is also very protective and connecting to community members and being diligent in supporting the community helps to build that rapport and trust within the community.”

Baguio-Larena said the work of MFSS has its challenges and rewards.

“Funding is a significant challenge, especially funding that is long term. Another challenge is engaging families. Often, families do not see the value in the services we provide, or they are so busy just trying to survive that they don’t think they have the time for the services,” she said.

“But being able to see and hear about how families have been able to strengthen their communication skills, their parenting skills, their knowledge of child development and resource awareness and utilization – and seeing them connect to other parents and their community – that is the greatest reward for the work that we are doing.”