Hulihe‘e Palace in Kona lights up blue for autism awareness

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Hulihe‘e Palace in Kailua-Kona was illuminated in blue on April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day. (Jessica McCullum)

Hulihe‘e Palace in downtown Kailua-Kona was among the thousands of buildings and historical landmarks around the world that illuminated in blue on April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day.

Kehaulani Keana‘aina, the Hawai‘i Island Director for Daughters of Hawai‘i, said the palace glowed blue for about four hours on Sunday as part of the global “Light It Up Blue” campaign.

As caretakers of the palace, Keana‘aina said this display fit perfectly into their organization’s priorities to make Hulihe‘e the center for collaboration of education and community.

“We’re the first iconic building in Hawai‘i to support this cause, here, in little Kona,” Keana‘aina said.

The show of support for autism awareness also aligns with the Daughters of Hawai‘i values to create an environment of inclusiveness.


Jessica McCullum, founder of the nonprofit Autism Moms of Kona, approached the Daughters about illuminating the nearly 200-year-old structure with the blue hue.

On Monday, the mother of a 9-year-old girl with profound autism said it meant the world to her that the palace participated in this worldwide display of support for autism, which was sanctioned by the United Nations 16 years ago.

It’s not only an acknowledgment of the disability but a show of acceptance.

“It reinforces the power and mana of our cultural values: aloha (love), ho‘okipa (hospitality) and kuleana (responsibility),” McCullum said.

McCullum said this is the first time in the Kona community there’s been an outward support for autism.


“I knew it was there, it just needed to be tapped into,” she said. “It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to raise a special needs child. We can’t do it alone.”

According to recent statistics, more than 2 percent of American adults and 1 in every 36 children have an autism diagnosis. McCullum described profound autism as a disability where individuals have difficulties with communication, relationships, developmental delays and break in routine. However, autism in general is not considered a disability but rather a neurodiversity, the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways.

McCullum said her daughter is nonverbal. As a family, their daily challenges also include eloping or having melt downs in public.

McCullum founded Autism Moms of Kona in 2018 because she recognized the lack of resources for families with children with autism. Prior to moving back to the Big Island in 2008, McCullum lived on the mainland where there was more support and resources for her child. She especially missed the regular support groups.

“I used to depend on monthly support groups so we could offload those emotions,” she said. “We had to struggle because we didn’t have the resources we [used to have].”


McCullum said there’s a huge shortage of Applied Behavioral Analysis therapists and within the Department of Education there wasn’t a lot of integration. There also is a lack of understanding in the community about autism.

“Our nonprofit focuses on two things: we support the family as well as child and encourage them to thrive in the home so they have the courage to integrate into the community,” McCullum said.

The organizations has several programs in place that not only helps families but educates the community about profound autism and neurodiversity. McCullum said the nonprofit teaches businesses looking to be more inclusive about the autism spectrum and how to accommodate from the sensory perspective. The organization also partners with the Department of Education and medical providers.

The partnership with Hulihe‘e is profound because historically, the Hawaiian monarchs cared deeply about the health and wellbeing of their people.

The state’s largest private school, Kamehameha Schools, was founded by the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great. Monarchs also helped establish hospitals. In 1859, Queen’s Hospital — now known as Queen’s Medical Center — was established by Queen Emma and her husband, Kamehameha IV.

In 1890, Queen Kapiʻolani started the Kapiʻolani Maternity Home for Hawaiian mothers and their infants. It remains today as the Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children.

“It’s a reflection of our values and being collaborative with the community and making sure we honor the values of our Ali‘i and their goal to be committed to health and welfare for the people of Hawai‘i,” Keana‘aina said of participating in the “Light it Up Blue” campaign. “We look forward to partnering with community organizations that align with our values.”

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