The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii represented me through the process of obtaining custody of my son many years ago. I remember speaking to the person on the intake line, and she was so kind and patient… she listened to my story and referred me to the Kona office.
It took over 2 years for my case, but I was so grateful that Legal Aid was there to guide me along the day way. I couldn’t have done it without them.
I was so honored when I was asked to serve on the Board as a Client Member Director. Over the years I referred about 10 people and Legal Aid was able to help almost all of them. I know a lot of folks hesitate about calling Legal Aid, and especially right now when so many people are worried about losing their homes and getting evicted.
I want to encourage people in the community to make that first call because you’ll never know unless speak with someone. They were able to help me and my son, and I am so grateful for that.
Although I do not have a direct connection to Legal Aid, I have a deep fondness for Hawaii and a true wish for all people who are in need have access to the help they require, legal or any other means. My donation is one way I can make a gesture to help the people of Hawaii.
I first visited Hawaii in 2016 and in the weeks before the trip, I read some of the history of Hawaii. When I arrived in Honolulu, I felt an immediate embrace by Hawaii's energy. That sensation has never left me and I plan to continue to give what I can to help improve life for the people of Hawaii and the land as well.
I also appreciate the work done by Legal Aid organizations. I know the law is a complicated world and for attorneys to give their expertise is a noble gesture. Since many hurdles in our society require the aid of a lawyer, I think it is one of the areas that should be an essential service, available to everyone.
As a Board member, I believe the impact that the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii has in the community is needed and very important to those that are very vulnerable in our society. Legal Aid has helped so many people including myself. Their assistance is greatly appreciated by all those who don't understand and are desperately seeking help and answers during tough times.
I would like others to know that whenever you're in doubt or don't understand the laws about renter's rights, family abuse, citizenship, divorce, custody, disability or simply needing assistance to fill out necessary court documents, don't ever feel ashamed or afraid to contact Legal Aid.
The best decision that I've ever made was to take that first step, calling Legal Aid for assistance when I needed it most. Legal Aid staff helped me and guided me in the right direction.
Mahalo, Legal Aid for all you do!
- Loel-Anjanette Kaikuaana, Board Member, 6 years of service
In 2016, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s fair housing enforcement program uncovered that a private student housing provider was unfairly discriminating against families with children.
“We found through our testing that families with children were being turned away from Savio’s student housing. The settlement, after litigation in which we joined in a case by the Department of Justice, resulted in a very progressive family policy for relating to families in private student housing organizations that was much stronger than anyone was able to obtain in a settlement elsewhere in the country,” said Dan O’Meara, managing attorney for consumer and housing unit and director of Legal Aid’s Fair Housing enforcement program.
Around the country, families with children in private student housing would generally not be charged extra for children ages 2 years old or under. If the child is older than 2 years old, he/she would be charged as an additional person living in the unit.
“When others settled, they settled for policies that limit the age at 2 years old or maybe 4 years old. We were able to negotiate that a parent with a minor child, up to age 17, would not be charged extra for that child to live in the unit,” said O’Meara. This is all part of our efforts to address the needs for family housing in our community, in all circumstances.
READ THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE PRESS RELEASE
When people need help, it is so important to know that the Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i is there. As a volunteer teacher's aide at an elementary school, I was recently invited to attend a parent get together because the organizer knew that I served on the Board for the Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i.
Many of the families who attended the meeting came from Mayor Wright Homes, and needed to get legal information to address a variety of issues. I was able to help them as far as making that connection to Legal Aid and the services we provide in family, housing, public benefits, and citizenship.
Many of these parents brought their children to the meeting, to help them with accessing technology, too. They would say, “Aunty, my mom and dad don’t know how to use the computer.”
It was a good opportunity for me as a TA in STEM to teach the children, so they could help their parents navigate their way through online portals and forms. They’re really grateful when they see that I can help be a bridge and connect them to Legal Aid – they feel comfortable asking me, and then they come back and say, “Thank you, Aunty, for sharing Legal Aid with us! They helped!” That’s what life is about is… helping each other!
-Aldora Kahele, Board Member, 4 years of service
I grew up in a city very much like Honolulu, in a seaside town called Qingdao in China. I had no idea about the United States back then.
I worked as a biology teacher when I was in China, met my then husband, and we had a son. My son was about 4 years-old when his father got an opportunity to advance his education in Hawai`i. Of course, we followed him!
The move to Hawai`i gave me opportunities as well. I enrolled at the University of Hawai`i and studied epidemiology with an emphasis in statistics, graduating with my Master’s degree. It allowed me to work in the health industry for many years – it built on my teaching days in China.
I had thought about becoming a United States citizen when I first arrived, and even tried to start the process a couple of years ago. It was very difficult for me to understand the paperwork because my first language is Mandarin. In my first attempt, I didn’t really have anyone helping me and I gave up. Then I heard about the Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i and met with a staff attorney!
The people at Legal Aid helped so much. They are such wonderful professionals, very knowledgeable with details and the process. Without Legal Aid’s help, I would not have been able to become a U.S. citizen.
Now that I am a citizen, I am applying for new employment opportunities – positions that will help even more, and also build the future that I want. I do think that my professional background in health can help our community, especially given what we are going through today. Thank you to Legal Aid for helping me get here!
The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii helped make strides for my son, Jason, to be included in his first field trip with his non-disabled peers.
After years of long battles with the Department of Education, this year, Jason was allowed to participate in an overnight statewide student conference, complete with behavior support and accommodations because of his disability. He was the school’s first student representative who had disabilities and a special education IEP.
Jason learned to advocate at the Legislature alongside all students.
Before I came to Legal Aid, the school asked me to arrange for and pay extra for separate accommodations, to be present for the 2-night stay, and to transport my son to and from the Capitol, not required of other parents. The school would provide a behavior support technician, but only during regular school hours. Jason would not be able to participate fully.
I believed this was unfair and I could not pay more than the regular conference fee. To make inclusion possible this time, I needed an advocate.
The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s Whole Child Project came through!
Their staff attorney taught me how Sec. 504 is a law that guarantees a student equal access to extracurricular activities. I learned to write an effective letter explaining how imposing the requirements due to my son's disability would deny my son equal access to participate.
A separate special education was not enough for my son. He wanted to be included, too.
I encourage parents of students with disabilities to ask the school and district staff for -- and expect -- their children to be included in field trips and extracurricular activities with the supports they may need. When your student is denied, this legal battle for inclusion can be won.
I would like parents and others to know the breakthrough that the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii made for all students to have equal access and to be included.
- Linda Elento, mother of Jason Elento
I was literally homeless, living out of a car in Waimanalo with my four-month old son when the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii came into my life. It was rough. There were times I broke down because I couldn’t provide for him. We would drive to Hawaii Kai to shower and bathe -- I felt like it was the safest place for us.
My attorney, Dana, from Legal Aid’s Whole Child Project, helped me to get my son’s birth certificate and other paperwork so I could get into housing. I thought that when my son was born, I would get his birth certificate for free. I couldn’t even afford to pay for it. Getting all that paperwork taken care of helped me and my son to get off the streets.
Today, I am enrolled in Windward Community College and have a goal to further my education to become a medical coder. I also just got a job and my son was accepted into a daycare. Legal Aid helped me to create a new life, a better life for my son. During those hard times, I remember looking at my son and telling myself, “It’s not about me anymore. I want him to be in a better position than me. I want him to know that if I can do it, he can do it."
If it wasn’t for Legal Aid, I would still be on the streets. I went from having nothing, to now building my life, my goals, and my dreams. I didn’t plan to be on the streets, but that’s what happened in my life. Thankfully, Legal Aid stepped up and showed me the first step I needed to take so I could finally climb out.
Growing up on the Big Island as a little girl, I saw my parents’ abusive relationship unravel into a horrible divorce and was dragged through the process. Later in high school, I found myself stuck in an abusive relationship of my own. It was a really bad time. My then boyfriend had held me down one day, shoved a gun down my throat, and told me that he would kill me. Later while I was driving in the car, he punched my face over and over, breaking five bones. When I finally got to my mom’s house, she could not even recognize me because of the purple bruises all over my face.
After building up the courage to call the police and go through the court process, I felt that the system failed me. He got 6 months in jail and was charged with a misdemeanor. I was still afraid for my life when he got out. I felt like nobody really cared during the legal process. I started struggling with alcohol to dull my feelings and pain, becoming a “high-functioning” alcoholic. I maintained a job, had my kids, but it was becoming a serious problem that was jeopardizing my entire life. I realized I could not keep living this cycle.
Getting sober did so much for me. It allowed me to feel my emotions and not mask it with anger or alcohol. It ultimately allowed me to forgive him, so that I could forgive myself. I have been sober for 8 years.
Those experiences shaped my desire to become a lawyer.
As a single mom of two, I earned my Bachelors degree after getting sober and my JD from Vermont Law School. I worked as a public defender in New Mexico and really poured my heart and soul into the job. I knew I wanted to come back home to Hawai`i and give back to my community. I love the work I do with the Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i because I know that I am serving the interest of the most vulnerable of our society through education and zealous advocacy.
We have the ability as attorneys to step in and say, “Yes, we can help you.” Our work can become deeply personal, so I am also open about my personal story if it will help people feel comfortable. I really do understand what it is like to be afraid, to feel helpless, embarrassed, and angry about everything. I let them know that I am human, too.
Today, I am good with who I am. The bruises have healed, the bones have healed, and I am grateful to be in a position where I can truly help others. It’s like that day when I was walking on stage to get my diploma, looking at my two kids, I felt like I had finally “made it.” I want help others to make it, too.
Managing Attorney, Kona Office
I choose to give to the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i because while I do not reside in Hawai’i, Hawai’i resides in my heart.
For the past 20 years my family and I have been blessed with the ability to spend more and more time in Hawai’i. The beauty of the land and people have made us feel welcome and at home. We consider Hawai’i the place we most want to be whenever time and pandemics allow. We hope to spend even more time in Hawai’i in the future, so much so that I even became a member of the Hawai’i Bar.
I have been in-house Counsel for a Fortune 50 Company for 20 years and I was an attorney at large law firms before that. I love what I do but I also realize that the large companies I help are not the only ones in our communities in need of legal services. Whether we think about it or not, the law touches almost every aspect of our daily lives. Unfortunately, and particularly through difficult times such as we are living now, the people who would benefit the most directly from legal advice are often the ones who have the least access.
I am grateful that organizations such as the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i exist to provide support to a community that I want to see thrive. I want to say thank you to the Staff and Professionals who work with the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i for the important work you do in providing access to legal services to those in our communities who are underserved and for giving the rest of us a way to be helpful.
Mahalo Nui Loa
Adriana I. Reyes-Villanueva