Skip to main content

Transforming lives on Hawaii Island

Special Interest Programme / Partner story / Video

© Hawaii Community Foundation

Hawaii is home to beautiful coral reefs and marine life that provide food, jobs, cultural connection, and a way of life for local residents, while also supporting a billion-dollar tourism economy. It is also home to communities that strive to live in balance with their ecosystem.

Established over a century ago, the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) desires to transform lives and improve communities. It envisions an equitable and vibrant Hawai‘i, where all island communities thrive. The Special Interest programme has provided grants to the HCF since 2018.

Hawaii is in a seismic zone. In 2018, a lava flow swallowed up 700 homes in Pahoa, in the district of Puna. Given the regularity of volcanic activity on the island, residents began thinking about alternative housing solutions. “Homelessness is a crisis throughout our entire community,” says Brandee Menino, CEO of Hope Services.

“There’s a concern – is it worth investing in housing in this community because of the potential of the lava threat? So we really had to go back to the table to figure out a different way of building housing. And an idea came – well, why don’t we make transportable homes?”

Supported by HCF, Hope Services worked with the local communities to build trailer-homes on wheels that could simply be moved to a safe place the next time there is a volcanic eruption. “This is real action, a real example of communities coming together, building stronger, building better,” says Brandee. “Our hope is that this can be replicated all throughout the state, so that real affordable homes can happen, here in our community.”

HCF also seeks to strengthen Hawaiian culture through language. The Hawaiian language remains on the list of the world’s endangered languages, and in order to preserve it, HCF supported Hale Kipa ‘Ōiwi’s project to teach Hawaiian to school children. Called ‘Ahā Pūnana Leo, the project has taken off and there are now 13 pre-schools teaching the language across the state. “It’s heartwarming to have my grandchildren speak Hawaiian,” says Namaka Rawlins, senior director of Hale Kipa ‘Ōiwi.

On average, 48 per cent of Hawaii island residents are either in poverty, or living below United Way’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed threshold, also known as the ALICE Threshold.[1] [2] With a heavy reliance on tourism, the unemployment rate for the island jumped from an average of 3.1 per cent in 2019 (with a low of 2.3 per cent in December) to nearly 11.5 per cent in 2020 [3] (with a high of 22 per cent in April 2020).

The Elama Project gives young people who ordinarily would not choose to attend college the chance to do a year of college-level studies. Kai Mahana Pai trained to be a chef as part of the Elama Project. “I told my parents I really want to come here because I love cooking,” he says. “There are so many opportunities I had never gotten, but now, since I’m here, I am so grateful.”

In addition, HCF’s ‘Marine 30×30’ project aims to protect and revitalise natural resources, and convert 30 per cent of Hawaii’s nearshore waters into marine management areas by 2030. It is hoped that this level of protection will help prevent mass extinctions, preserve critical ecosystem services, and help avert the worst impacts of climate change. “By bolstering the implementation of this initiative, HCF hopes to protect and restore Hawaii’s unique nearshore marine environments,” says Micah Kāne, CEO of HCF.

Read more about the work of the Hawaii Community Foundation on it’s website:

This grant falls under our Special Interest Progamme (SIP), which reflects the Trustees’ interests in making dynamic, diverse, large, innovative, and challenging grants. You can read more about the programme by clicking here.

[1] United for ALICE® (2022). United for ALICE® – Meet ALICE. Available from: (Accessed 09-02-22)

[2] United for ALICE® (2022). Research Center – Hawaii. Available from: (Accessed 09-02-22)

[3] State of Hawaii, Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (2022). Unemployment rate/labor force. Available from: (Accessed 09-02-22)