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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 17, 2003

Residents restore Papakolea pride

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

A decade ago, Papakolea was a place to be avoided.

Nadia Ibarra, a sixth-grader at Lincoln Elementary, lines up a shot while playing pool with his friend Katrell Mokuahi, a Lincoln fifth-grader. They are part of the Boys and Girls Club program at Papakolea's community center.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Even for people who lived in the Hawaiian Homelands community centered along Tantalus Drive, the atmosphere sent a message that was more warning than welcome: a reputation as a high-crime area, littered with abandoned cars, lined with groups of teens hanging out.

Today, thanks to the efforts of dedicated residents, crime has dropped, almost all the junk cars are gone, and the teens have a place to go. And there is a good reason to stop in Papakolea today as residents hold a blessing and grand opening of their new community center — a symbol of renewed community pride.

Renovations at the community center are nearly complete, and soon educational, business development, social and health programs will be added to existing programs.

The grand opening and fund-raiser, from 10 a.m to 7 p.m., is being called Ko'ohanau Ke Au Hou — "to cause or influence the birth of a new time".

The community center is a step toward self-determination, providing what residents say they need, according to Puni Kekauoha, president of the Papakolea Community Association.

Papakolea is a 27-acre homestead with 270 homes and about 1,500 residents near the entrance to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. The community was added to the Hawaiian Homestead Act in 1934.

At a glance

• Who: The Papakolea Community Center

• What: Blessing and grand opening fund-raiser to benefit community programs.

• When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today

• Where: 2150 Tantalus Drive

• Entertainment: Kawika Capero of Pu'eo, Hui Pono, Aunty Genoa Keawe and 'Ohana, Five by 5 and Simplisity.

• Other: Food booths, craft vendors, tours and history of the center.

• Parking: At Lincoln Elementary School with shuttle buses every 20 minutes.

• Information: 520-8998

The first community center was built in 1932 along with a health center run by Queen's Hospital, now The Queen's Medical Center. The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands leased the land to the city in 1963 and the present center was built in 1984, including a covered basketball court and a small playground. In 1999, following a community vision project, residents began developing a plan to manage the center themselves.

The nonprofit Papakolea Community Development Corp. was formed to run the center, and the city turned over management to it on Sept. 2, 2002.

"It was an initiative driven by a community visioning project held in 1997," Kekauoha said. "One of the things that was very evident was we needed a place for the families to gather and be safe. A place that was nurturing."

Adrienne Dillard, an officer of the Community Development Corp., said while the center was being run by the city, services and hours were limited. "When the city ran the center it was not at full use," Dillard said. "The kids did not feel this was like home."

Today programs such as lomi lomi classes, church services and sports teams continue, and more are being added, including a computer lab, business training and a health outreach worker.

The Boys and Girls Club was brought in to take over recreational activities under a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. The club offers everything from pool tables, board games and art classes to computer literacy and sports and fitness to about 150 children ages 6 to 17.

Eric Keawe, a life-long resident and officer of the community development corporation, said the change in attitude has been dramatic.

Papakolea Community Center facility manager Aloha Kaikaina, left, Matt Asperilla and Randy Hoover get the place ready for today's blessing and fund-raiser party. The center is a cornerstone of residents' efforts to restore the Hawaiian Homelands community.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"A lot of things have changed within our community," said Keawe, son of famed entertainer Genoa Keawe. "I remember our first community cleanup. Once we started that the attitudes began to change."

Eric Keawe said drug dealers are being rooted out by neighbors who love the community and have known each other's families for as many as six generations.

The center is also seen as a catalyst for building ties between Papakolea and its neighboring homestead areas of Kewalo and Kalawahine.

Richard Soo, vice president of the Kalawahine Streamside Community Association, said it's inspiring to see how the community has been cleaned up, how people are involved raising their children and assisting the elderly.

"To have this community stand alone to take control of that center is amazing," Soo said. "I was raised in Palolo Valley with no real connection with the Hawaiian community. Now, living in Papakolea is a rebirth for me. I truly think that what is going to happen up there is a model for the rest of the homelands communities."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.