By Ramsay Wharton
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Holding hands in prayer, more than two dozen homeless families and workers with Ka Paalana Preschool gathered Tuesday morning at the mobile preschool site at Keaau Beach Park in Makaha. They meet twice a week at this location, but this week is special. It's Christmas.
The teachers had lots of activities planned and even brought out a kind of "play snow" that's mixed with water. The day was made even more complete with food, clothing and gifts donated by Pacific Century Fellows and the Friends of Hawaii-Sony Open Charity. Wholesaler, Costco, even donated Christmas Trees and gift baskets.
One of the highlights of the day, decorating gingerbread houses.
"I'm going to decorate it," said five-year-old Danica Morgan who especially loved M&M's.
"I think most of us have grown up with a traditional Christmas around the tree, the presents and family and food and it makes me feel good that their going to get the same experience. And my staff as well," said Danny Goya, director of Ka Paalana Preschool.
Last week, the kids got to meet Santa Claus and on Tuesday, they climbed through his home. Tiny though they were. The fun was all part of their mental and physical education.
"They're doing an obstacle course, just following the jiggy, jaggy lines. So it helps the large motor muscles," said teacher Cheryl Kekumu.
Kekumu has been homeless herself on Christmas and is now giving back as an instructor.
"Just seeing those faces every day, its an awesome reward," she said. "Makes you want to come back to work every day."
For the past four years, Ka Paalana Preschool has been helping families. And the kids and parents love it. Now the school is seeking national accreditation with the National Association for the Education of Young Children. And if approved, it would become the first accredited preschool education program in the nation to serve the homeless community.
And the preschool, which receives much of its funding from Kamehameha Schools and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, has been meeting it's mission said Goya. So far, by working with other Leeward coast homeless service providers like the Waianae Community Outreach, the preschool has helped transition some 300 families out of homelessness, like five-year-old Danica Morgan and her mom who moved into a home two years ago.
When they first started in 2007, Goya said, "We had three preschool sites along the beach. We're down to one preschool site now and we're at five transitional emergency shelters along the Leeward coast."
The idea is to move families off the beach, to shelters and more permanent housing. Goya says they're also looking to expand in transitional housing areas to help homeless families after they leave the shelters.
When the presents were being passed out, the keiki's eyes lit up. And with every smile, on their and their families' faces, it was easy to see that this preschool is making a difference, in more ways then one.
"Christmas doesn't have to be only on Dec. 25. We can do it all year round by providing food, especially to the Hawaii Food Bank, but different organizations like Lokahi as well, or the Waianae community outreach," Goya stressed.
Michelle Long, of Maui, has been homeless for 10 months now with her two young children, living on the beach. Long expressed her deep gratitude to the Ka Paalana and its staff.
"They come. They give their heart. They share. They give all they can for the kids. Its just touching, so, I feel blessed," said Long. "I'm real grateful they come for the kids and help my family," she added as she wiped tears from her eyes.
For more information on how to help Ka Paalana Preschool or to make a donation visit www.pidfoundation.org or call (808) 595-2752.