It takes a community to fight poverty

This Island Voices piece originally appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser 12/13/2017 edition. Click here to view online. (Subscription Required)

By Karen Tan, LCSW, President & CEO, Child & Family Service

Hawaii is a very giving community, and during the holidays we see that generosity taking place across businesses, nonprofits and community organizations in our state. Donations and efforts big and small can have huge impact on the lives of families struggling to make ends meet and offer joy and hope during the busy holiday season.

Those types of community efforts can also be game changers for families throughout the year, especially for so many in our state facing poverty, homelessness and despair in light of Hawaii’s high cost of living and its related impacts.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, poverty is one of the greatest threats to child health. Poor children have increased infant mortality; more frequent and severe chronic diseases such as asthma; poorer nutrition and growth; less access to quality health care; lower immunization rates; and increased obesity and its complications.

Poverty and economic hardship is also particularly difficult for parents who may experience chronic stress, depression, marital distress and exhibit harsher parenting behaviors. These are all linked to poor social and emotional outcomes for children.

Over the past year, Child & Family Service has partnered with a program called Transition to Success to pilot a national model in Hawaii that treats poverty as a diagnosis affecting a family rather than a character flaw. Through our Family Centers on Maui and Kauai, we worked with families to map their dreams and help them create a path to get there. Youth who said they wanted to become NBA basketball players were not discouraged, but rather helped to put in motion the pieces to get there, such as a good education, which would motivate them to do well in school and get them on the path to confidence, achievement and self-sufficiency.

The success of the program is predicated on setting goals and dreams for family members, but bringing those dreams to fruition requires the collaboration of many community partners. On Maui and Kauai we partnered with more than 15 agencies, businesses and organizations who could provide important pieces to the puzzle, such as basic needs, literacy, getting an education including GED and higher education for parents, financial literacy and volunteerism, job training and placement, all key components for self-sufficiency.

Data is being collected to measure the effectiveness of this pilot and so far, the results are promising, with 80 percent of participating families meeting at least two of their stated goals during the year.

Last month, I had the opportunity to present the findings of this pilot project at a national conference of state leaders, along with Marcella Wilson, founder of the Transition to Success program. Upon returning home, I was surprisingly greeted with several emails from attendees wanting to learn more about how to create a community of partnerships in their states as well.

Hawaii’s economic challenges and the effects of poverty in our community are evident, but so too are the opportunities for our state to serve as a model to others of the impact of our collective cultures and communities to make measurable and lasting change in the lives of our families.


This Island Voices piece originally appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser 12/13/2017 edition. Click here to view online. (Subscription Required)

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