Hawaii County Community Policing Officer Tyler Prokopek clears out dead vegetation Saturday morning at Jack Hall Memorial Housing in Kealakehe, part of a community cleanup effort including local businesses and organizations. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Volunteers pick up trash along the cleared border of Jack Hall Memorial Housing in Kealakehe on Saturday. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Jelani Henry, 10, pulls up a weed at Jack Hall Memorial Housing oin Kealakehe Saturday morning. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Volunteers clear overgrown vegetation at Jack Hall Memorial Housing in Kealakehe on Saturday. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Community and business volunteers alike came together Saturday to tidy up the neglected grounds of Jack Hall Memorial Housing in Kailua-Kona.
Trees have been trimmed, bougainvillea bushes tamed, weeds pulled and garbage removed following several days of work that culminated with a Kealakehe-area community get-together featuring food prepared by nonprofit kitchen Only Us. New signage for the low-income housing complex was also erected in honor of late resident manager Ben Watai, who designed the 48-unit complex’s original sign that had been damaged.
Work got under way Wednesday with local developer Forest City Hawaii and businesses including E M Rivera & Sons Inc., Kelly’s Tree Service and Goodfellow Brothers Inc. performing the heavy work, including tree trimming and mulching. The community gave an extra hand on Saturday pulling remaining weeds, trimming and picking up garbage. Some of the businesses expect work to continue for more several days.
“We really, really appreciate them coming down and doing this community project with us,” said the public housing complex’s part-time manager Elaine Watai, Ben Watai’s wife who is known more affectionately as “Aunty Elaine.” “We hope the residents of the Kealakehe community will look at us and all start to clean up and improve our community.”
Watai said the work was needed to rejuvenate the public housing complex, which in addition to Watai has just two maintenance workers to serve the 48 units and grounds. She noted that the high bushes and weeds provided grounds for crime.
Community Policing Officer Ellsworth Fontes Jr., whose beat covers the Kealakehe neighborhood, confirmed that the bushes, some of which stretched to reach electric and utility lines, was providing cover for criminal activity such as drug and alcohol use, partying and littering, among others. Fontes, along with five other officers, spent the morning trimming, clearing bushes and other tasks.
“We hope to bring pride to the area and neighborhood to deter trouble,” Fontes explained. “Once (they’ve) got pride for this, they won’t want it damaged.”
The cleanup, Watai said, is in essence Forest City Hawaii’s way of saying “thank you” to Kealakehe-area children who testified in support of Forest City Hawaii’s Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu, an under way affordable 270-acre housing development off Ane Keohokalole Highway in North Kona. There were no ideas at the time for a cleanup or other community event, she added.
In fact, Watai said, the project came at the behest of Forest City Hawaii, which contacted public relations firm Current Events to coordinate with Watai for the event.
Jon Wallenstrom, Forest City Hawaii president, said the community project is part of the international company’s means of giving back to a community in which it has developed, or is developing, a project. He was most inspired by the ability for community and business to come together to help those who need help.
“This is ohana. This is really the way it’s supposed to be,” said Wallenstrom. “You’ll keep seeing us.”
Jack Hall resident Tamra Kaaihue, while preparing to take her children to a soccer match in Kailua-Kona, said she and her family are excited for the improvement. She noted that the area north of her unit was long overgrown and had become dumping grounds for furniture, car parts and more.
Now, she said, there’s more room off the roadway and parking lot for her children to safely play and more air moving through her home, which will likely reduce the family’s utility costs.
“We’re so happy,” she said. “And, it’s really special because it was done for free.”
Her daughter, 8-year-old Faith Luce, can’t wait to have more room to play and practice her soccer moves. She is thankful to the volunteers who put in so much time and effort at Jack Hall. She further hopes the kids at Jack Hall will create rules among themselves, like picking up any rubbish if playing, to maintain the grounds.
“They’re trying to make (it) good for us,” she said. “They’re making a difference for us.”