Molokai Drop In Center Gets ‘Extreme Make Over’

Metro Rotary volunteers do major building overhauls.

By Catherine Cluett

The Molokai Drop In Center on Manako Lane is a flurry of activity. Screwdrivers are whining, hammers are pounding, and shovels are hacking. Over 30 Rotarians from the Metropolitan Honolulu Rotary Club are visiting Molokai for the weekend of October 3rd to 5th to “gut the buildings,” in the words of Kathleen Rhoads Merriam, Metro Rotary Project Leader and DOH Statewide Clubhouse Coordinator for the Community Mental Health Center System Administration.

The Rotarians are working in partnership with the Molokai Community Service Council (MCSC) to provide such facility improvements as a new commercial kitchen and dining areas, a room for clerical services such as vocational assistance and education opportunities, and a community garden.

The Drop In Center, known as Hana Ka Lima ("working hands"), provides a variety of services to people with physical, mental, and addiction challenges. It currently serves 12 to15 clients per week, with a total case load of about 80 people, says facility director Joe Childs. He expects to see an in increase in those numbers after the make over is complete. “What we have to offer would draw more people,” he says. “Putting members’ skills to use in such activities as cooking and gardening is a way of healing.”

Merriam says the kitchen will allow Hana Ka Lima to serve meals, as well as serve the community in food bank donations, which clients will assist with.

Merriam first visited Molokai two years ago, and brought the project to the Rotary last year for planning. “Kathleen is the brains behind this project. If it wasn’t for her, this wouldn’t be possible,” says Childs.

Rotarians are completing about $150,000 worth of work on the project, says Merriam. MCSC obtained $19,000 for Hana Ka Lima renovations from a Maui County grant, and $7,000 was donated by the Metro Rotary. “Funding is short, but we can’t say Molokai deserves less,” says Merriam.

“My sister was on Molokai when the Ranch closed,” says Dana Barnum, who has been a member of Metro Rotary for about a year, and volunteered her time for the Molokai project. “I knew this was a way to let people on Molokai know that people on Oahu cared about them,” she says.

"We are overwhelmed by the Rotary Club's generosity," said Karen Holt, Executive Director of the MCSC. "The members paid all of their own expenses to come to Moloka'i, in addition to donating their time. We can’t thank them enough for this incredible gift to our community."

Many Molokai residents have pitched in their volunteer services to help in the project. Mel Chung of Kaunakakai arrived on Saturday morning, planning to work only an hour, but was still there when the sun went down that night. Drop In Center clients also aided in the work. “They did a lot of preparation before we got here,” says Rotarian and licensed contractor Mike Darcey, who helped supervise the project. “They made our job easy, and their faces light up as they help us.”

The property where Hana Ka Lima is located was recently purchased by MCSC from Bill Aki and his sister Lani Soong. “Because Bill and Lani wanted their family's land to benefit the community, they donated a substantial portion of the property's value so that MCSC could afford to buy it,” says Holt.

“Molokai Drop In Center has been lacking state support for a long time,” Merriam explains, adding that so far, Hana Ka Lima has received only verbal recognition from the state in its 12 years of operation. Merriam and Childs hope that after this project, the facility will receive recognition from the state as a full-fledged clubhouse, the term used for community facilities like the Drop In Center, and be given more state staffing and funding.

Currently, the Hana Ka Lima has only two full time staff: Childs, and his wife Althea Childs, Drop In Center Coordinator. Merriam says it should have a minimum of four full time staff, which would allow for increased hours and more services. The nine other clubhouses in the state are fully funded and staffed. Hana Ka Lima would be the first and only clubhouse on Molokai. “We like to refer to clients as club members,” explains Childs. “It’s like a foster family to them.”

“We hope this project will be a booster for Drop In Center members and for the community, helping to dispel the stigma of mental illness,” says Childs. “This weekend’s work is just a beginning.”

The Rotary Club and MCSC would like to give a big mahalo to: architect Jim Reinhart of Architectural Diagnostics, Ltd. and Contractor Mike Darcey of Darcey , BJ Dudoit and Karen Holt from MCSC, Rotary Club volunteer organizer Kathleen Merriam, Bobo Alcon for the backhoe, Akamai Tree Trimming, John Kaalekahi, Sr. for the tent, plumbers Malcolm Pastrana and David Nanod, electrician Wynn Walton, local landscaper Alika Kaahanui, Peni Tilini and Dean Spencer for the use of their dump trucks, landscaper Mike Elinski of Native Plant Source, Mel Chung, Ron and Lucy Davis, MSCS, the Rotary Club, and all the Hana Ka Lima members and staff who helped with the project.


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