Turning Lives Around With Hope

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - October 27, 2010
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Hope Kealoha and Kiki

If Hope Kealoha believes in happy endings, it’s because she has fought for the opportunity to write one of her own. The 47-year-old mother of three has tottered at the brink of disaster, fell in a couple of times, but has managed to pull herself up and out.

It’s been a journey to hell and back.

I met Kealoha through the good people at Hawaii Foodbank. She agreed to tell her story to help raise awareness and funds for an organization that made it possible for her to find her happy ending.

It wasn’t easy for her to admit her life was out of control. The first time she tried to use Hawaii Foodbank, she ran away before getting the food.

She was ashamed. “The way we were raised, we help, we give. And to be in this line, it was because I put myself there. I stood in line, they asked for names, they asked income, they asked - well, to me it was personal, so I left.”

But she was caught in a dilemma. She didn’t want her friends to witness her humiliation, but she still needed the food. So she tried Plan B.


“I went all the way up to Manoa. They have a place, a church. I knew no one up there knew me. But when I got there, there was people that I knew.”

As wake-up calls go, this was a relatively small event. But it was the first time she actually had to stop, think and say to herself, “Wait a minute - what am I doing? Where is my life going?”

“I had an addiction - me and my ex-husband - and it was addiction that led us to that. And it was everybody in my circle that was using it.”

It was crystal meth. And it would be a long time before she would be free of its powerful pull.

Wake-up call No. 2: her kids. Her life was already broken and she watched, despairing, as her anger and hopelessness affected her children.

She made the decision to leave her husband and went to a domestic abuse shelter.

It wasn’t easy: “Me, being the breadwinner, made it very, very hard.”

But she needed protection. She needed to take her life back and she knew it was up to her because “somebody had to make a conscious decision.”

That decision to leave an impossible situation led to another: She became homeless. That was wakeup call No. 3.

“I looked at where I was and, oh my god, I can’t believe I’m here. It became reality,” she says.

She found herself living under an old tank across from John Dominis restaurant. A homeless man, Ben Kahalepo, befriended her and made it his job to protect her. Kahalepo created a place for her: a little triangle of space furnished with carpet, an air mattress and blue tarp for walls. Kealoha was grateful, but as she looked around her makeshift “home,” she realized she was looking at her final - and most effective - wake-up call.

“I got clean and sober in 2007. It was a reality check. The step that I took 1) was to admit that I had a problem, 2) I went to meetings. I walked into a meeting of AA. But even my first year, I didn’t get it. It was one day at a time. It took self-will and self-determination.”

And it took a lot of help. One of the agencies providing that help was Hawaii Foodbank.


Kealoha has made giving back a part of her recovery. At every step of the way, she looks for opportunities to help other people. She volunteers to work for the courts. She works with children and with families struggling with the same addictions and abusive cycles she was trapped in for so many years. She even helps distribute food.

Kealoha is now living in a stable home and is a valuable member of her community.

“I can’t fix the broken hearts and give back to the people that I stole from ... all I can do is give back.”

You can help a little - or a lot - by setting a donation aside for the Hawaii Foodbank or whatever charity you deem worthy.

There are an awful lot of people in Hawaii who are like Hope, struggling to write their own happy endings. Let’s make sure they know they are not alone.

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