Offering a helping hand to struggling families: The Punawai Program

Cross some major worries off the checklists of Native-Hawaiian families that are struggling to pay bills on time and keep debts at a manageable level.

A new community-based group has won a two-year $1.2 million contract from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to provide emergency financial assistance to help eligible families keep up with electricity and water bills as well as pay rent and car notes.

Called the Punawai Program, the outreach effort is a collaboration among three nonprofit organizations: Helping Hands Hawaii, Catholic Charities of Hawaii and Hawaiian Community Assets.

The collaboration is also part of a wider effort at OHA to work closely with community-based organizations that have tied their missions to helping improve conditions for Native Hawaiians.

"We think success is getting individuals and the families we help through this program to the point where they don't need us anymore," said Jan Harada, president and CEO of Helping Hands Hawaii. "We want people to be self sufficient. We don't want to help you, then two months later, you're back needing more help. That means that we didn't do the job that we're supposed to do. Our job is to help you get to the point where you don't need us; you're on your own; you're self-sufficient and your stable. You're not doing drugs; you're not homeless; and you're not struggling to make ends meet. You are basically living a good life."

Among the specific services provided by the program will be help paying security deposits on rent and covering funeral expenses. But there are strings attached to this financial assistance, which is intended to strictly help families pushed to their financial edge.

"There are certain requirements that are definitely important to highlight," Harada said. "The primary one is that in order to receive emergency financial assistance, we're asking you to go through a financial education curriculum, which helps you to see how to better manage your money. The point is self-sufficiency. We want to help you manage your finances so your expenses don't outweigh your income. It's up to a one-hour course; it's not that long; it's pretty user friendly; it's community based and developed from a grassroots level. So, we're really happy to be partnering with Hawaiian Community Assets to get that accomplished."

For more information please call:
• (808) 440-3804 - O'ahu
• (808) 935-4673- Hawai'i Island
• (808) 241-4673 -- Kaua'i
• (808) 873-4673- Maui (as well as Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi)

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Produced by OHA Digital Media
Writer: Harold Nedd
Video: Alice Silbanuz
Edit: Ryan Gonzalez