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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 30, 2010

How to better help families help each other

By A. Lee Totten

The Totten 'Ohana is awaiting the birth of our sixth and seventh grandchildren.

My husband and I were reminiscing over our four older kids and how each one "flew the coop" after graduation. Our second son found an apartment with four of his church friends. Every Saturday he would show up with a brown paper bag, give us a hug and walk into our food pantry and proceed to fill his bag with our groceries!

Within a year he had moved back home and soon our youngest girl did, too. My husband and I had a five-bedroom house at the time, along with 10 children, a daughter-in-law and two grandsons.

Then the only child still trying to make her way in the world asked to return home and my mother's heart broke. There was absolutely "no room at the inn."

I sat in the living room at 3 in the morning, praying and crying my heart out; this child of mine needed my help, and I had to bring her home. Then suddenly this vision appeared, and I saw my living room cut in half and our food pantry was gone. In its place was a sixth bedroom! In a matter of months, the room was built and my daughter was home.

Hawai'i is all about 'ohana, sometimes when programs and systems fail, our 'ohana may be the next step. Our problems with the homeless and the rising cost of our shelters are hitting everyone, and we are all affected.

I've often thought if the state or other charitable organizations would break down the funding for shelters, then offer a portion or a tax break as incentive for families who are willing to build an additional room for their homeless 'ohana, this could help our Island problem. It's a natural act for 'ohana to want to help their families, but financially that is often impossible. Families are the greatest assets we have, patterns work; we just need to re-invest in what is already there. Remember the biblical proverb "When one suffers, we all suffer." Or how about this: "When one helps, we all get help!"