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The pandemic and a pilot program reunite brothers who had been apart for years

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 5:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Seventeen years is a long time for siblings to be separated, but that’s how long it took for half-brothers Bruce Hoffmann and Kelly Ueoka to reconnect.

“We went years without seeing each other,” Ueoka said.

“I never thought it was going to take me so many years to get back to Hawaii,” Hoffmann said.

When Hoffmann’s adoptive parents divorced, he moved to the mainland with his mom. His dad remarried and Ueoka was born.

The brothers were together briefly.

“There was a photo that my parents used to show me of him hovering over me as I was an infant,” Ueoka said

Sporadic communication and a series of separations followed. Life happened and the years got away from them.

“Once kids came along it kind of became more of a financial hardship to bring the family around,” Hoffmann said.

But the pandemic brought them back together.

Hoffmann was one of 50 working professionals chosen from 90,000 applicants to fly to Hawaii to help the economy through a pilot program called Movers and Shakas.

“I’m so grateful for the program,” Ueoka said.

For 30 days, participants split time working at their jobs remotely and helping out on cultural projects. They worked at a lo’i and Huilua Fishpond.

“We were helping to reconstruct the rock wall there,” Hoffmann said. " I don’t know if I’ve ever spent that much time on that part of the island.”

He reconnected with his Hawaii ties. The family reunion was icing on the cake.

“My brother was back in Hawaii,” Ueoka said.

“I brought my wife and my youngest son, Matthew, with us as well. I said, ‘This is your Uncle Kelly,’” Hoffmann said.

He also had time to visit his father on Kauai.

“A lot of years could go by but living in the moment, it was really special,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann is back in Ohio. The brothers vow there will be no more long lapses. They’re already planning the next family get-together.

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