Susanna Cheung, founder of Helemano Plantation in Wahiawa, is thrilled that, for 30 years, the plantation has been a multifaceted mainstay on Oahu as a tourist attraction as well as a residency home for the developmentally disabled and elderly.
Cheung also is aware that the last few years have brought trying times to the plantation and its residents, times where resourcefulness and development of new programs and projects is a must in order for the plantation to remain a part of the community in the future.
“We celebrate 30 years, so we grow old together as a family, but the parents of our residents are growing old and are passing away, leaving us in a tough position in regard to their sons and daughters,” says Cheung, who was featured on the MidWeek cover in 1997.
“We are trying to maintain our business, but tourism is very slow. We are getting very few visitors to our restaurants and shops. We apply for funding, but it is hard to get funded at this time, and there can be complications and delays on the money owed to us,” she adds.
Regardless of recent misfortunes, Cheung and the Helemano staff have been constructing new projects to help bolster stability at the plantation. Helemano has completed its Camp Pineapple 808 project, which has 11 cabins and can accommodate 200 people. It also provides meeting and workshop rooms for parties and organization engagements. “Workshops can be held to help educate people who work with the disabled and the elderly,” says Cheung. “There is a lot of potential in this camp to provide services to the community.”
Helemano also has recently opened its Aloha Gardens as part of the wellness center providing day care services for seniors.
Partnering with the UH College of Tropical Agriculture, Helemano has begun agricultural projects. They’re cultivating vegetables and are raising different types of fish, and have installed an aquaponics system that combines aquaculture and hydroponics methods of growing and raising plants and fish.
Cheung says it’s the residents who help her realize that no matter the financial situation, the work done at Helemano is rewarding and fulfilling. “I enjoy the individual accomplishments you see every day,” she says. “The residents here are so motivated, they know they have to earn every privilege they have, whatever the job may be.”
When asked about retirement, Cheung answers quickly, “Mufi Hannemann asked me last month when I plan to retire, and I told him when he retires, that is when I will retire.”
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