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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

Kids at Kaka'ako homeless shelter have own Keiki Korner

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Michelle Saltiban, 1, gets a pony ride with help from Annjenica Luther, 8, left, and Lorilynn Edgar, 9, right, moments after the opening of the Keiki Korner at the Kaka'ako homeless shelter last night.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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A learning and play center called Keiki Korner opened last night for more than 100 children staying at the state's homeless shelter in Kaka'ako.

Volunteers and shelter staff members obtained donations of computers, books, furniture and arts supplies for the center, situated in a corner of the 36,000-square foot warehouse near the University of Hawai'i's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

On Monday, the children, who make up about one-third of those staying at the shelter, also will get donated backpacks and supplies as they prepare to return to school.

"We always wanted a keiki corner but there was no funding," said Laura Thielen, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance. "Every night, we have volunteers read stories to the kids. They've been sitting on the floor. Now, they'll have an actual corner."

Thielen's organization is helping to oversee operations at the shelter, dubbed The Next Step Project when it opened in early May after the city forced more than 200 homeless people out of Ala Moana Beach Park. Thielen said she hopes the center will bring families together and give children a sense of pride.

Michael McNulty, administrative assistant at the shelter, said volunteers were still sorting through donations yesterday afternoon. The shelter is expecting more donations next week.

Since the shelter opened, McNulty said, kids have been running around the warehouse in search of fun activities and many find themselves bored. Volunteers have tried to help out, McNulty said, but "with all these kids, just keeping them busy is hard."

Eventually, the center will have a schedule of activities, ranging from handicrafts to tutoring.

The center also has eight donated computers, all of which were recently hooked up to the Internet. There have been lines to use the computers, and shelter staff members hope to eventually get adults working on Internet job searches, online learning and drafting resumes.

"It's one thing to house people and give them clothes," said McNulty, who is homeless and living at the shelter. "It's another to give them some skills and literacy-type programs."

The shelter opens at 5:30 p.m., and residents are allowed to stay there until 8:30 a.m. McNulty expects much of the center's use will be after dinner, which is served about 6 p.m.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.