Max Lerner, renowned American journalist and educator, wrote in his book, The Unfinished Country, “The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”
Hawaii Self Storage Co-Owner Mike Wood exemplifies this quote as one who has overcome childhood trauma and found the strength to prosper. Over the course of the next 20 years, he will donate $9 million to build and support a shelter for foster children. The home is slated to open early next year.
From Big Brother to Foster Families
Wood’s own childhood entailed growing up in a chaotic home environment. For most of his formative years, he was the primary caregiver for a younger brother suffering from emotional problems as a result of a debilitating illness. Wood’s father left the family early, leaving his mother the sole supporter of Wood and his two siblings. After the oldest brother left for college, it became Wood’s responsibility to care for his younger brother.
The years spent caring for his brother and experiencing the turmoil in his family life left a deep impression on Wood. He realized that traumatized children needed help and he was determined to make life a little easier for them.
Wood has been involved with children since his college years when he worked as a playground director. After moving to Hawaii, he became a Big Brother with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a youth-mentoring organization, and served as a board member for 18 years.
“My first Little Brother had serious issues when we first got together. Now, he is a part of my family,” he says. In addition, Wood and his wife adopted two boys and later had a third son.
Four years ago, Wood became involved with Hawaii’s Foster Family Program. “Most children in Big Brothers have a parent,” Wood says. “As a board member of Foster Family Programs of Hawaii, I’ve heard sad stories of kids, in unsafe home environments, being picked up in the middle of the night for their protection. Many times these children must be split apart during this frightening time and end up all over the island in temporary homes.”
The realization that children in traumatic circumstances did not have an established safe place to go inspired Wood to do something about it. In August 2007, he donated $1 million to the state to begin the development of Ho‘omalu O Na Kamali‘i, a temporary home for foster children after Child Welfare Services have removed them from their homes. The shelter will be run by Foster Family Programs of Hawaii. The state is providing the land near Oahu’s villages of Ma‘ili, which offer transitional housing for the area’s homeless. Wood donated an additional $200,000 for the furnishings, fixtures and equipment. Over the next 20 years, he will donate another $8 million, at $400,000 a year, to assist in operating costs of the home.
The new home, which name means “safe haven for our children,” will be a secure place for kids while Child Welfare Services social workers investigate their home situation. On any given day in Hawaii, 2,100 children are in foster care due to confirmed child abuse or neglect according to the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS).
Wood and his wife, Joanne, have worked with Foster Family Programs of Hawaii and the state over the past year to finalize the details of the architectural plans. The 4,000-square-foot building will have 10 bedrooms, a dining hall, study rooms, family playroom, half-court basketball and playground. Construction began in July with completion scheduled for late December or early January.
Keeping Kids Together
Ho‘omalu O Na Kamali‘i will serve 180 to 300 children a year who need a safe, temporary-care facility. It will provide shelter for up to 15 children at a time with an average stay between 30 and 45 days. Twelve full-time employees will provide home and medical care, psychological counseling and related services.
The first children are expected to arrive in April 2009. Preference will be given to children on the Leeward Coast near the facility. The home will allow siblings to stay together, and many of the children will be able to continue attending the same school in an effort to maintain some consistency during this traumatic time.
“As a local business owner, I believe it is my duty to give back to the community,” Woods says. He saw these kinds of homes in Utah and thought, “Why not Hawaii?” His hope is Ho‘omalu O Na Kamali‘i becomes a model for additional homes throughout the state.
As part of its community philanthropy, Hawaii Self Storage has four programs in its Community Pride outreach initiatives.
Rent to Charity invites new self-storage customers to donate their first month’s rent to the non-profit organization of their choice, with all 501(c)3 entities eligible to receive donations. “This is our way of encouraging our customers to follow our lead and get involved,” says Daniel Ho, president of Hawaii Self Storage.
Hawaii Self Storage budgeted $10,000 toward advertising to promote Rent to Charity and to ensure Hawaii nonprofits organizations reap the benefits of this program. “We hope this new program can make a difference, one locker at a time,” Ho says.
The Transition Assistance program, launched in August, assists residents experiencing financial difficulties with free storage for a minimum of four months.
Scholarships have provided more than $109,000 in $1,000 per year, renewable scholarships for graduating seniors to apply to their higher-education costs for up to four years.
Literacy Programs have annually collected books to benefit Hawaii Literacy’s Book Mobile, by offering customers a $2 credit for every donation. More than 4,000 books and educational games were collected in 2007. The company expects to purchase more than $9,000 worth of books in 2008 for 15 elementary schools. “As a locally owned company, we’ve made it our mission to help the community, and we support programs aimed at enhancing literacy, education and teamwork among Hawaii’s youth,” Ho says.
Each Hawaii Self Storage location also sponsors two youth athletic teams, donating approximately $4,000 per facility.
In 2007, the company began storing donated items for various fund-raising events as part of the Lokahi Giving Project.
As a result of its Community Pride Initiative Program, Hawaii Self storage was awarded a 2006 and 2007 Best of the Best by The Honolulu Advertiser.