Kahuaola Basic Needs Center opens for students at Hawaiʻi Community College

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A lei is draped during the opening celebration of the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center in Hilo by Noʻel Tagab-Cruz, director of Hawaiʻi Life Styles. Photo: Hawaiʻi Community College

Hawaiʻi Community College has opened the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center at the Manono campus in Hilo.

Kahuaola is a resource center that aims to build a foundation to support the basic needs of the college’s students. Kahua is the foundation upon which ola — life, health and well-being — blossoms.

“Hawaiʻi Community College and other higher education institutions are seeing more students struggling to meet basic needs like food and housing, which makes it difficult for them to succeed in college,” said Craig Mitchell, the coordinator of the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center. “If we can connect students with our on-campus food and resource pantry, as well as to other support programs available in the community, we can increase the chances students will persist and graduate.”

Hawaiʻi Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas said the establishment of Kahuaola is a recognition of how important it is for the college to work in partnership with community organizations.


“In addition to offering services like a food pantry, Kahuaola is also a resource center and a connection to the community,” Solemsaas said. “Because at the end of the day, as an educational institution, we know we can’t do it alone. 

  • A blessing ceremony was held for the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center. Photo: Hawaiʻi Community College
  • Hawaiʻi Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas speaks during the opening celebration for the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center. Photo: Hawaiʻi Community College
  • Hawaiʻi Community College culinary arts student Amanda Santiago is at the opening ceremony of the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center in Hilo. Photo: Hawaiʻi Community College
  • Hawaiʻi Community College student Kanoe Lake is one of the beneficiaries of the new Kahuaola Basic Needs Center. Photo: Hawaiʻi Community College

“Hawaiʻi Community College is proud to be part of the larger opportunity network that supports students so they can succeed in college, thrive in the workforce, and support themselves and their families.”

The launch of Kahuaola has been supported by a five-year Stupski Foundation grant.

In a recent study, 50 percent of Hawaiʻi Community College students surveyed experienced some type of basic needs insecurity. Basic needs include food and housing, clothing, childcare, mental health services and transportation. The study found:

  • 37 percent experienced housing insecurity in the previous year
  • 31 percent experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days
  • 10 percent experienced homelessness in the previous year

In addition, 50 percent of students experiencing basic needs insecurity did not apply for campus support because they were unaware of support services or did not know how.

Kahuaola offers a food pantry for students; application support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; access to the Hawaii Nutrition, Employment and Training program for eligible students; and connection to other essential resources to help students meet their basic needs while pursuing a college education.

The center also will focus on increasing scholarship and Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion and linking students to financial literacy opportunities.

Amanda Santiago, who is studying culinary arts at the college, said she receives transportation reimbursement through the Hawaii Nutrition, Employment and Training program to help defray the costs of driving to campus.


“I’m really thankful for this program, because it’s helping me a lot,” Santiago said. “Since I’m from Pāhoa, I drive every day, and gas is really expensive.”

The opening of Kahuaola is part of a broader effort across the University of Hawai’i System to address gaps in students’ ability to meet basic needs. UH has adopted a Basic Needs Master Plan and has launched a basic needs website.

It’s also an expansion of Hawaiʻi Community College’s efforts to address students’ struggles with basic needs. Students, faculty and staff have for years offered monthly on-campus food distributions in partnership with the Food Basket.

Kanoe Lake, who is taking human services courses with the goal of becoming a licensed family therapist, said she has benefited from Kahuaola’s food pantry and reimbursement for books and supplies through the Hawaii Nutrition, Employment and Training program.

“I am thriving here because of them,” Lake said.

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