Growing Strong Together on Hawaiʻi Island

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Ēlama Project Scholarship Program director Dana ‘Āina (left) and student Bro-Dee K. at University of Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i Community College – Pālamanui. Oak Foundation funds support a range of programs including HOPE Services Hawai‘i modular homes, and ʻAha Pūnana Leo.

Aligning HCF’s CHANGE Framework with Oak Foundation’s mission has created a partnership that can leverage lasting, positive change

Bro-Dee K. is the first in his ‘ohana to attend college. Part of the 2020-2021 cohort in the Ēlama Project Scholarship Program, supported by Oak Foundation and designed to help students in West Hawai‘i Island succeed, he plans to get an associate degree in electrical installation and maintenance, land a good job and help support his ‘ohana.

But the pandemic meant a shift to online learning, and it’s hard to join a Zoom class if you don’t own a computer or have access to reliable Internet service. The Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF) in partnership with partner Hawai‘i Community College noticed this digital divide happening for Bro-Dee and other students like him, brought it to the attention of donor Oak Foundation, and created a plan for action. In 2021, Oak Foundation generously gifted $100,000 to help its scholarship students who’d been affected by pandemic-related learning challenges, by purchasing 80 tablets and laptops, leasing 40 Wi-Fi hotspots, and providing peer IT support.

This agile and timely response highlights the true benefits of partnerships between HCF and donors like Oak Foundation.

Oak Foundation is a family-led, global philanthropic organization—in 2021, it made 440 program and special initiative grants to 412 organizations in 41 countries.

And HCF, as a community foundation with more than a century’s experience in the Islands, has been able to work with Oak Foundation to assure its donations have the maximum impact in Hawaiʻi’s communities, fulfilling Oak’s philanthropic goals.

In May of 2018, Oak Foundation awarded HCF a four-year, $5-million grant for direct programs and grants. Goals included narrowing achievement and opportunity gaps between education and careers among students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Hawai‘i; addressing the threat of climate change; moving low-income families and individuals into stable housing; and strengthening networks among those community leaders who are working to find solutions for critical issues.

For example, a total of $600,000 went to Hope Services Hawai‘i, a nonprofit working on unique solutions for modular, moveable housing in rural Pāhoa,  especially for low-income seniors. Another grantee, ‘Ahā Pūnana Leo, explored issues of dyslexia within the context of Hawaiian language learning, in partnership with the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s School of Hawaiian Language and the ʻAhā Pūnana Leo preschool on  Hawai‘i Island.

Oak Foundation has since given an additional $1 million to the Hawai‘i Island Strong Fund to help grassroots group Vibrant Hawai‘i, creating community-based resilience hubs that not only respond to crises, but also help prepare for future disasters and build infrastructure. Another $1,250,000 in funding over three years is going toward the statewide Marine 30x30 Initiative, aiming for effective management of 30 percent of Hawai‘i’s nearshore ecosystem by 2030.

By working with HCF, Oak Foundation’s contributions for direct programs and grants were matched by $8.8 million from HCF and other donor partners, through programs such as HCF’s Stronger Together Hawai‘i Scholarship.

HCF brings together community and government leaders, 50-plus community partners across the state, and other funders to build upon each other’s strengths and resources, and help donors like Oak Foundation make a bigger impact. After all, says Robbie Ann Kane, HCF program director, “It’s key to know who to call, and HCF knows who’s doing great work in the community.”

To learn more about HCF’s Strong Funds, visit