Kealakehe High School students on Thursday integrated their classroom learning into an experience outside their usual four walls.
About two dozen students from the Kailua-Kona area school spent the day learning about homelessness in West Hawaii during to a visit to the West Hawaii Emergency Housing Facility and HOPE Services’ Friendly Place located in the Old Kona Industrial Area.
The students were part of a public human service core class required at the high school. The class spent a good chunk of the semester learning about various social issues facing West Hawaii, said Jessica Dahlke, the course’s teacher.
“It puts a realistic face on the issue,” she said. “Learning in the classroom isn’t the same, and when you are doing something to contribute it sticks.”
Freshman Cameren Yamamoto said she was scared at first when she arrived at the facility, but quickly learned those in need of the services offered once were just like her — living a normal life.
“I was also curious, because I didn’t know this was really happening,” she said. “It is devastating, and I can’t believe this happens to people, but it makes me realize I am spoiled and living in my own world.”
Yamamoto and the other students toured the emergency shelter facility, pulled weeds and beautified the site, and made cards for residents before lighting and decorating Christmas trees. All of the students chose to take part in the volunteer day.
The Christmas trees, six in all, were donated by Lowe’s home improvement store, said Ryan Latta, the son of store manager Chauncey Latta, who said the store is committed to bringing Christmas joy and cheer to all members of the community.
The younger Latta said he approached the store to donate trees to the shelter after learning they would be destroyed after the discovery of slugs.
“I knew they needed trees and that they wanted them for the holidays,” said Ryan Latta. “I hope that people will see this and remember to reuse items and not just throw them away — if you have clothes, anything, donate them, don’t just toss them.”
Sophomore Hao Mai said she was surprised to learn the backgrounds and various walks-of-life experienced by those currently homeless. She hopes the students’ work will make their holidays a little brighter.
“It’s really meaningful to do something for the homeless,” she said while taking a quick break from pulling weeds. “They are already struggling and we want them to have a nice Christmas.”
Following the tour, cleanup and decorating, the students served a hot meal to those in need, featuring culinary student-made shredded chicken chili, hapa rice and herbed focaccia bread. The food was donated and prepared by the school’s public human services and culinary arts classes, said culinary arts teacher Karen Sheff.
Sheff said the students serve the lunch so they can learn and show others that a healthy meal can be made at a relatively low cost.
She estimated each portion of food served Thursday cost about 80 cents.
“You can make a cheap meal as healthy as anything else,” she said, noting the food contained various local items, including foods grown by the students.
“It can be done.”