Business Monday: Big Island-grown agency celebrating 24 years of empowering people with developmental disabilities

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A Full Life staff member helps a client in this photo from informational material.

Curt and Thelma Tyler were at a crossroads in 1999. Their son Charlie had autism, and like all families, they wanted to make sure their child could have a quality life and thrive even long after they were gone.

The Kona family’s journey was fraught with challenges, as services on the mainland did not promote self-determination or independence and those available on the Big Island were inadequate.

So they set out to create their own.

After working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and receiving grant funds, the Tylers partnered with Deann Canuteson and Larry Casper to open Full Life, which in 2000 began its mission to ensure their son and others like him could live happy, safe, self-determined and full lives.

Curt Tyler died in 2004 and Thelma Tyler passed away in 2014. Charlie Tyler died in December 2023, but his and his parents’ legacy lives on. Full Life is celebrating 24 years of being in the business of empowering people with developmental disabilities on the Big Island.


The agency, which is a nonprofit, directly serves a total of 85 participants islandwide, including keiki and adults. It has offices in Hilo and Kona and serves every district on the island.

Direct services are community-based, in homes, workplaces and the greater community, with more than 100 staff members and direct support providers who help clients build relationships, understand their community and offer one-on-one support they can not only physically access their community but develop valued roles.

That includes employment services, pre-employment transition services, personal assistance habilitation and community learning services, as well as its Kona Day Services and Marketplace, which is a culture-focused day program that fosters skills for life and a passion for artistic expression.

  • A Full Life staff member assists a client in this photo from informational material.
  • A Full Life staff member poses with a client in this photo from informational material.
  • A Full Life staff member is pictured with a client in this photo from informational material.
  • A Full Life staff member is pictured with a client in this photo from informational material.

“We support people to not only be included in their community but to belong,” said Full Life Executive Director Jim Kilgore. “Belonging is a feeling of being accepted and valued.”

Direct support providers, who work directly with clients, implement personalized care plans to support individual dreams and goals, encourage self-determination and community engagement, facilitate skill development for greater independence in daily life and contribute to a culture of respect, dignity and opportunity.


The agency provides indirect services to hundreds of people as well. Through community partnerships, clients can get involved in paddling, participate in the Aktion Service Club and take part in a variety of inclusive art festivals in Hilo and Puna, including with Abled Hawai‘i Artists, that Full Life helps organize.

Clients also participate in other community events and organizations such as theater productions.

Full Life partners closely with the Hawai‘i Department of Health Development Disabilities Division, which provides case management, coordination and administration of services. Funding is provided through Medicaid.

Kilgore said the state saves taxpayers about $300 million a year providing services in the home compared to institutionalization or care at nursing homes. Full Life saves taxpayers an average of $85,000 per person per year compared to the cost of institutionalization.

However, state funding varies based on the amount of care a person needs. Some need services 24/7 while others only need a few hours a week. So the agency also relies on donations and grants to provide services, which are inclusive of all people with developmental disabilities even if they don’t receive Medicaid services.


That is buoyed by support from, relationships with and collaboration among all other Hawai‘i Island providers such as Easter Seals, Arc of Kona, Arc of Hilo and Goodwill and its many community partners.

“Full Life is unique that it is founded by a local family,” Kilgore said. “Full Life is also unique in how very involved we are in the community, from community art programs, employment programs, supporting ongoing community outrigger canoe paddling and participating in as much community activities and initiatives as possible.”

Full Life Executive Director Jim Kilgore hands out donuts Friday during an open house at the agency’s new office location in Hilo. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

He added that another way Full Life sets itself apart from other service providers is its staff, who he said make the difference. That includes the direct support and leadership teams.

Kilgore has worked in the service provider field for more than 25 years and said the people he works with now are the best he’s ever known.

“It is so awesome to come to work with a team that really feels like ‘ohana,” he said.

They’re all there for the people and families they serve and always bring their best. Full Life recently relocated to a new office in Hilo to better serve its 35 clients there.

The previous office was located in the historic Pacific Building in downtown Hilo, from where Full Life enjoyed 14 years of service. The East Hawai‘i office was in Pāhoa before moving to Hilo in 2008.

The new office, located at 792 Pi‘ilani St., is larger than the downtown location and offers additional opportunities for clients and staff to socialize. Parking is less difficult, there is easier access to the office itself and it has more open space.

The owner of the building also is charging affordable rent, so Full Life can focus its resources in Hilo on serving people outside the office.

“Because all of our services are provided in people’s homes and in the community, it is important for us to have an office location that we can easily connect with each other and our community,” Kilgore said. “A bonus is that it is right next to the Edith Kanaka‘ole complex and close to the beautiful Wailoa River State Recreation Area.”

The agency hosted an open house at its new office location Friday to show off its new digs to the community. Those who attended, including staff and clients, were treated to food and fellowship as they got to explore the new location.

From left, Full Life direct support provider Vince Zamora, client Daylan Toribio and his program coordinator Kerri Speaker pose for a photo Friday under the Full Life sign during an open house at the agency’s new office location in Hilo. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

Daylan Toribio of Hilo has been a Full Life client for the past 12 years. The agency helped the 31-year-old get his job 5 years ago at Safeway in Hilo. He’s also become more active in the community, including theater, with the help of his direct support provider Vince Zamora.

“Full Life is important because they help me out in the community, they got my job at Safeway and they help me out with transportation to get me to work on time and hang out after work,” said Toribio during Friday’s open house.

He said he wouldn’t have been able to get his job without the help of Full Life and is very grateful to have the agency and Zamora helping him.

Zamora has worked with Toribio for the past 10 years and with Full Life for 14 years.

“We’re important because there are people that need support in the community. A lot of times families don’t have the infrastructure to support people in the ways that they might want or need, so they don’t get to explore all the opportunities they might have interest in,” he said during the open house. “I think that’s one of the main aspects is that we really are person-centered, we offer one-on-one support so we really get to know a person and find out what their strengths and interests are and help them achieve those goals.”

Zamora actually became a Safeway employee during the COVID-19 pandemic to support Toribio while he worked after the company said only employees could be at the store working. Through his efforts, several other people with developmental disabilities have been hired at the store since.

He was recently named the 2024 American Network of Community Options and Resources National Direct Support Provider of the Year for Hawai‘i and was honored for the achievement during Friday’s open house.

“None of us get into this for recognition,” he told those present. “We’re here because there’s a need.”

But he and Full Life can’t do it alone. Zamora said parents, staff members, clients and the community do the much-needed work together.

“We have a number of organizations on the Big Island that offer support for the [developmentally disabled] community, so I feel fortunate to be a part of that community,” he said.

There’s more work to do, too.

Kilgore said of the estimated 4,000 people on the Big Island with developmental and intellectual disabilities, which include autism, down syndrome and other genetic disorders and cerebral palsy, only about 400 receive Medicaid services from Full Life and the island’s other providers.

For more information about Full Life, visit the agency’s website, call the Hilo office at 808-322-9333 or the Kona office at 808-935-7699 or email

  • People walk in to the new Full Life office in Hilo, located at 792 Pi‘ilani St., while others talk outside during an open house Friday. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)
  • A community member leaves a message on the Intention Board during Friday’s open house at the new Full Life office in Hilo. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)
  • Full Life direct support provider Vince Zamora, who has worked for the agency 14 years, sits at his desk on the second floor Friday at the agency’s new office location in Hilo. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)
  • Community members, clients and staff members eat and socialize during an open house Friday at the new Full Life office in Hilo. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at
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