New Kailua center aims to address gap in services for young adults with disabilities

(Image: The White House)
(Image: The White House)

KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new learning center at St. Christopher's Church in Kailua is welcoming young adults with disabilities like autism and Down Syndrome.

Julianne King, president of the Hawaii Autism Foundation, said funding and services suffer after a person with a disability leaves school. And the center, which opened late last year, is meant to fill that gap.

"Government funding is cut in half once a person graduates from high school," King said. "And the law is once you reach age 22, you no longer quality for high school and at that point, the quality of care goes down dramatically."

So the Hawaii Autism Foundation granted $200,000 to establish the Kahumana Learning Center. There, young adults learn life skills, pre-vocational training and are integrated into the community with excursions like visits to farms and robotics sessions.

"We chose a location that's close to town, they could walk to town, volunteer, go to the rec center, go to the library and be integrated not separated," King said.

The center hopes one day to help these young adults find work.

"They don't need to just sit around and play puzzles and watch TV. Our kids can do more. They have a lot to give," she said.

Kekoa Tato, 22, loves the center.

"I want to say I really like them," Tato said.

And participant, Michael Rice, 25, is a success story. He has Down Syndrome and works part-time work at Buzz's in Kailua, where he met President Barack Obama and even took a photo with him.

"The president told me, 'Keep up your job,'" Rice said.

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