Hugs Comfort When Words Fail

By Donna Witsell
Wednesday - December 23, 2009 Share

By Donna Witsell, Executive Director
HUGS (Help, Understanding & Group Support)

When your child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, it is likened to a rug being pulled right out from under you. One mother remembers sitting in front of the doctor in utter disbelief as he said that dreaded word: cancer.

For her, and for any HUGS parent, everything changes in an instant. Families in this situation will need a tremendous amount of support, which will take various forms at different junctures in their child’s treatment. HUGS was created specifically to support the entire family in a medical crisis and beyond.


HUGS (an acronym for Help, Understanding and Group Support) was founded in the early 1980s by concerned citizens and community leaders who were members of Unity Church Diamond Head.

We are now a 501(c)3 charity that provides a wide range of supportive services, free of charge, to families across the state of Hawaii who have children, newborn to age 21, diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Zoe A. and HUGS volunteer Monica T. decorate a T-shirt during Respite, a patient/volunteer one-on-one session

We will serve an estimated 800 parents and children on Oahu and the Neighbor Islands this year (more than 160 families). The average length of time a family is registered with HUGS is almost three years, and that is because half our kids will be diagnosed with some form of cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, tumors, bone cancer, etc.). Typically, these children will be in treatment about three years, if all goes well. There are also those families whose children have battled cancer for five or 10 years or more. The remainder of our families face a myriad of life-threatening illnesses that include hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, HIV/AIDS and severe cardiac and genetic disorders, to name a few.

The HUGS staff, board and volunteers work extremely hard to preserve the programs and services our families need and deserve. Sadly, every nonprofit struggles to raise money and never more so than in the past couple of years. We are pleased to announce that next year our major fundraiser will happen May 15 at The Kahala Hotel and Resort, and will feature great entertainment, dinner, a short program, live auction and much more!

All of our programs are year-round and therefore need continuous support. If you wish to donate your time, talent or financial support, we’d love to hear from you. For more information about HUGS, please visit, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 732-4846.


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