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Big Island Substance Abuse Council marks 50 years of service

July 10, 2014 - 8:44am

For the past 50 years, the Big Island Substance Abuse Council has served Hawaii residents by treating individuals who abuse alcohol and drugs.

Adherence to that mission has seen the organization through thick and thin, including funding cuts last year that severely limited programs, with BISAC’s annual budget dropping from $6 million to $5 million.

However, this year, as BISAC celebrates 50 years, board and staff members have found their footing again and are looking toward the future.

“This year, things have improved significantly,” said BISAC CEO Dr. Hannah Preston-Pita. “We’ve made some changes. We’re looking at reopening our West Hawaii site, and possibly we’re looking into expanding into the Ka‘u area. … We’re learning how to manage without relying on grants.”

On July 1, 2013, BISAC was forced to shut down its offices in Kealakekua, Waimea and on Oahu. The two Big Island locations alone had accounted for between 25 and 30 percent of BISAC’s clientele, she said. As a result of the belt-tightening, the council’s total number of clients dropped from an average of 2,000 a year to about 1,200 this year.

But, while funding through grants has continued to be difficult to obtain, BISAC has expanded its efforts to find alternative sources of funding, including through its own fundraising events.

This summer will mark the organization’s inaugural Summer Jam — a combination summer festival and fundraiser, including food, entertainment and a Strongman competition. While BISAC has previously held summer festivals, this will be the first time that its primary focus will be on fundraising for a specific goal, Preston-Pita said.

BISAC hopes to raise about $20,000 this year to be put toward the purchase of a food truck, to be used by clients as part of the Pookela Vocational Training Program, which it expects to launch in about nine months.

“It’s what we’re really excited about right now,” she said. “It’s a cultural approach to looking at vocational training.”

The program is aimed at helping clients find gainful employment, thereby preventing them from falling back into the self-destructive patterns that promote substance abuse. It will include on-the-job training, including opportunities for clients to operate a food truck, as well as mock interviews.

On the truck “we’ll be looking at doing local style foods. Hot dogs, chicken katsu, etc.,” she said. “Our clients will be operating them, and having weekly culinary training, meeting with them for about two hours a day. It will include basic training on etiquette, food preparation.”

Before that training can take place, BISAC must buy the truck, and that’s what this year’s Summer Jam will be focused upon.

The main festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 26 at Waiakea High School. Meanwhile, the Strongman competition will occur concurrently, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Entertainment will include New Zealand group JGeeks, melding traditional Maori performances with modern electronic music and pop culture references. Other acts include Harold Kama Jr., Ilona Irvine, Ashley Lilinoe, Malu Productions and Beyond Paradise.

Building on the success of last year’s competition, which welcomed about 2,000 attendees, the Strongman contest is expected to feature 15 competitors from across the state performing amazing feats of strength, including pulling trucks, flipping tractor tires and more.

More information about BISAC and its Summer Jam can be found at or at

Email Colin M. Stewart at