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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

Unity to rebuild Chinese Home

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

An unprecedented campaign is under way to unite more than 100 independent organizations in Hawai'i's Chinese community toward a common goal — raising $500,000 to help redevelop the 85-year-old Palolo Chinese Home.

Leigh-Wai Doo, right, visits 104-year-old Alma Sofio, a resident at the Palolo Chinese Home. Heritage Task Force is organizing a fund-raising drive amid the Chinese community to redevelop the 85-year-old care home.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

The fund-raising effort is part of an $18 million project that will transform the care home into a facility offering a range of healthcare services to middle-income seniors. The rest of the money will come from foundations, corporations, grants and private donations.

When completed in December 2004, the Palolo Chinese Home will have a total of 88 assisted-living units: 68 one-bedroom and 20 studio apartments. There will also be a 40-bed intermediate/skilled nursing care residence for people with Alzheimer's or dementia. Construction is to begin early next year.

The fund-raising effort by the Chinese societies, also called hui or tong, represents a new cooperative agreement by the organizations, some of which are more than 100 years old and represent many of Hawai'i's 56,000 ethnic Chinese.

"This is the first time in my lifetime that there's been an effort to unite them in support of a cause," said Honolulu attorney Wesley Fong.

Fong and Clinton Ching are the co-leaders of the Heritage Task Force, which is organizing the fund-raising drive among the Chinese organizations. The task force has already received commitments from 40 of the 103 listed organizations. Another meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11 at the Palolo Chinese Home to garner more support.

"It's a tough sell," Fong said. "But this is a cause that transcends every line of social hierarchy because it is for something Chinese, no matter what generation you are."

The focal point is the Palolo Chinese Home at 2459 10th Ave., which once served only the Chinese, but now has residents from other ethnicities. Because the home was founded by Chinese and the name will always reflect that, the fund-raising project is a "significant cause that Chinese can rally around," Fong said.

The societies are diverse in their structure, leadership and goals, but Fong said the Chinese view societies as connecting points to their heritage.

Palolo Chinese Home was founded by Chinese but now serves other ethnicities. The Chinese community is raising $500,000 to redevelop it.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Every Chinese family here has at least one member who belongs to some society," he said.

The landscape of Chinatown, where buildings bear the names of societies, includes the property that many of them still own today.

The See Dai Doo Society, established in 1905, owns a three-story building at 1300 Pali Highway. that features a third-floor social hall for members. It is one of seven different societies in Hawai'i from China's Doo district and has 1,500 members, See Dai Doo executive secretary Tommy Yim said.

The Buck Toy Club has 600 to 700 members but its active list is about 80 to 90, said Daniel H.C. Ching, a Buck Toy member like his late father, Yuen Kwock Young, and son, Leslie G.T. Young.

The oldest Chinese societies on O'ahu are Lin Yee Chung Association (1854), Ket On Society (1869), Buck Toy Club (1885), Lum Sai Ho Tong (1889), Lung Doo Benevolent Society (1891), Kuo Min Tang Society (1894) and Oo Syak Gee Lu Society (1897), which were established in the 19th century and still are active today.

Some societies were established to offer companionship for early immigrants who came from the same village and spoke the same dialect.

The founders of the Ket On Society, for example, spoke the haka dialect and practiced Triad and Taoist rituals. The Buck Toy Club was established by immigrants with surnames like Chee, Chun, Go, Ing, Lau, Lee, Ng, Tom and Young from Buck Toy village in Leong Doo of the Chungshan District of Kwangtung Province, about 50 miles north of Macau.

But not all date back to the 19th century. The Association of Chinese from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, made up of refugees who migrated to Hawai'i, was established 22 years ago by Ted Li. Its membership of 500 to 600 families has pledged its support for the Palolo Chinese Home project.

Uniting the wide range of societies behind a common goal is difficult, almost as difficult as recruiting younger members.

"The survival of all societies depends on leadership," Fong said. "A lot of societies are suffering from the lack of a younger generation of participants and leaders. One of the reasons societies don't change much is the older leadership, people in their 70s and 80s, may have a difficult time giving up control and finding younger successors.

"Unless there's a recycling of leadership, no matter how much money you have, the societies may die."

The success of a united campaign for Palolo Chinese Home could open new doors, Fong said.

"It would prove to people that the Chinese community in Hawai'i can work together and be a catalyst for other uniting causes," he added.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8181.