The Valley Isle has some of the happiest seniors in Hawai‘i. Is it simply a Maui state of mind? Or is there more to it?
The fact that each year people from all over the world move to Maui to retire must say something…or perhaps it says a lot.
During a recent trip to the Valley Isle, Generations Magazine found two qualities that make Maui County a magnet for the more mature crowd: Residents are very civic minded, and the county’s elected officials care for its seniors — both in word and in deed.
“What makes Maui attractive is our philosophy of taking care of each other,” says Ruth Griffith, administrator of Kaunoa Senior Services, a division of the County of Maui’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns. “Maui County is made up of small communities. We look out for one another. Even our seniors who receive support services want to give back to the community, whether its by helping our children, volunteering for local nonprofits or assisting the sick and frail. Maui seniors play a vital role in maintaining our thriving communities.”
In government, elected officials support senior health and fund senior programs even during hard times, such as the most recent recession. “Maui County is amazing in terms of its commitment to seniors,” says Griffith.
Due to the Baby Boomer generation, the number of people turning 60 in Maui County will nearly double by 2020, according to the Maui County Office On Aging. In addition, there is an unreported number of seniors who move to Maui County to retire each year.
Cover & Feature Story Photography by Brian Suda
In response to Maui’s next big wave of seniors, the county is placing more focus and funds on health, well-being and prevention.
“It’s our job to find ways to keep seniors healthy, engaged and giving back to the community because they are a gold mine of information, time and wisdom,” says Griffith.
Of the many services and organizations in Maui County, Kaunoa Senior Center in Pa ̄‘ia and the West Maui Senior Center in La ̄haina ̄ serve as central hubs of activity for senior programs and activities. The centers provide opportunities for seniors to learn and grow through five ongoing, countywide programs:
- Leisure/Wellness Programs
- Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)
- Congregate Nutrition Program
- Assisted Transportation Program
- Meals On Wheels
- Adventures, Ambitions & Altruism
Kaunoa’s Leisure/Wellness Programs offer more than 100 regularly scheduled classes each week (2,000 leisure/wellness activities a year) for everyone 55 and better to master new skills that promote lifelong learning, healthy aging, whole-person wellness and personal growth.
Griffith says that the program is constantly evolving, as Baby Boomers are reinventing the whole concept of aging and what it’s like to be a ‘senior.’ “It’s a new frontier and it’s beyond exciting for us,” she says.
Baby Boomers evolved through a time of social revolution, and they are ushering in a new way of viewing the ‘golden years.’ –Deborah Arendale, MCOA Executive on Aging
It’s the people of Maui who make it so special, both the host organizations and the seniors… –Ivey
ADVENTURES, AMBITIONS & ALTRUISM
Nalani & Heali‘i: Kaunoa Leisure/Wellness Programs Volunteers
While developing the Leisure/Wellness Programs, Kaunoa has found that Baby Boomers prefer volunteering opportunities that are more active, hands-on and outdoorsy.
“The new generation of adults 55 and better want to experience new things and they don’t re- ally like to commit to one organization,” Griffith says. “That’s why we partner with a variety of local nonprofits. The nonprofits get the opportunity recruit new volunteers, while the seniors get a unique experience, access to exclusive locations and are able to learn something new.”
A recently developed Kaunoa volunteer activity is Civic Adventures, which blends volunteering with enriching activities. One of the adventures — in partnership with the Hawai‘i Nature Center — is the Lo‘iloa Project. Project director Kawewehi Pundyke leads a half-mile hike up to Lo‘iloa in ‘Iao Valley to the wetland lo‘i (taro patch) where seniors learn about restoration efforts and help maintain the ponds.
A “junior senior” Heali‘i Kauhane, 57, says that his initial visit to the Lo‘iloa Project was when he was commissioned to take photos for an archaeology group. “When I saw this place, my jaw dropped open,” Kauhane says. “I communicated my experience with Ivey Mitsuyuki, the Civic Adventures program assistant…and she made volunteering with Lo‘iloa happen.”
Whenever a Civic Adventures happens, I make time for it. It’s a different way I can help and give back to the dirt …so to speak. –Heali‘i
Pundyke of Lo‘iloa has been clearing the for- est and restoring the ancient taro patch for six years. He opened up the lo‘i to community groups about two years ago. “When I get to work with ku ̄ puna through organizations such Kaunoa, it really makes me happy. It means that Lo‘iloa gets to share some Hawaiian culture that the ku ̄ puna may not have learned from their parents because the culture was suppressed at the time when they were growing up,” Pundyke explains. “Because of that, there’s often a detachment, and for me this project is about rebuilding those relation- ships…and not only for them as ku ̄puna, but for their grandkids because there is a resurgence in Hawaiian culture today. By reconnecting, I hope that they can give their grandkids a blessing to be involved in their culture rather than—nah, never mind. I see the reconnection as a healing process.”
Kauhane, who is of Hawaiian decent, echoes that sentiment. His father was raised in Kahana Valley, Oahu, where he cultivated kalo. Then, the family moved to town and worked as state em- ployees and teachers. Kahana
Valley was later transformed into a subdivision and the valley was designated as a park.
“Being here made me think about who I am, who my ancestors are, what they did and what am I doing,” Kauhane says. “Volunteering here puts us back in the dirt where we need to be.
“I have the choice to watch ESPN or to do something that is beneficial to everyone—so volunteering is what I decided to do,” he says. “Whenever a Civic Adventures happens, I make time for it. It’s a different way I can help and give back to the dirt…so to speak.”
Nalani Archibeque, 68, a Kaunoa participant and community psychologist in hospice, says, “I’m still working but I just appreciate the opportunity to volunteer. Research shows that even if you volunteer for a couple hours a week, it releases the feel-good dopamine. We get supported by giving.”
She recalls, “Coming up here was my first Civic Adventure. I imagine that they’re all great, but to do this one first…wow. I was impressed because Lo‘iloa put 20 of us ku ̄ puna in the lo‘i and in no time the thing was clean! Cut, and piled up. Nobody talked, we just worked.”
Pundyke laughs, “That’s the thing about working taro patch. It’s really a time of reflection. As you get connected with the land…you’re in the mud … in the Hawaiian perspective that’s kulou—you’re bowing down and reverence while you clean.”
Born of Japanese/Haole/Hawaiian parents, with a hanai Hawaiian father, Archibeque remembers, “My dad always had a poi bowl on the table, but lots of times he couldn’t get kalo, so he’d make the ‘ulu (breadfruit) poi, which I…did… not…like! When we lose our food, we lose our language, we lose our culture. That’s true for any native peoples, so to see this restored lo‘i is pretty exciting to me.”
...To see this restored lo’i is pretty exciting to me. — Nalani
Lee: Kaunoa Volunteer & Avid Student
“It’s a refreshing thing to be here,” says Lee Murakami, a Kaunoa participant and volunteer. “I encourage all of the seniors…come, don’t stay home and watch Korean dramas. Come out here and be active.”
Soon after Murakami, 74, retired as an intermediate public school teacher in 1995, she was ready to look for activities and things to do. “I joined Kaunoa and I’ve been taking classes and volunteering ever since. It’s good. I’m never alone, which is really wonderful. You get all the people here and everybody is so friendly and helpful.”
She spends most of her days at the center doing a variety of activities—Jazzercise, Pilates and weightlifting. “I focus on the exercise classes because I want to keep fit. I want to be independent. I don’t want to fall or to be in a wheelchair. These exercises keep me strong so I can travel,” she says.
On volunteer days, you can find Murakami at the front office where she helps with enrollment and class updates. “So, that’s the ‘work’ part,” she says, “but even that’s fun because I get to meet a lot of new people every day.”
Coincidentally, as a youth in the 1950s, Murakami attended Kaunoa School, which is the current location of Kaunoa Senior Center.
“It’s so funny, so here I am again but in my senior years. I’m back at school learning different things, having fun and really enjoying myself here.”
LEISURE WELLNESS PROGRAM
Judy: Kaunoa Instructor
I don’t treat our members like seniors … and they don’t act like it. – – Judy
Judy Ridolfino has been an instructor of Kaunoa’s Leisure/Wellness Programs for more than 20 years and currently teaches 12 classes a week. With belief that variety contributes to good health, her classes range from calligraphy and cupcake wars to stretchy bands and Nordic pole walking.
When you walk into one of Ridolfino’s strength training classes, the first thing you notice is the size of the weights. “We don’t lift three-pound weights. I care about my class members so I don’t let them use the same weight week after week. I encourage them to ‘heavy up.’ It’s loving torture,” she laughs, “that’s why members come back.”
Sometimes Ridolfino encourages class atten- dance by offering fruit smoothies, too. She says, “But once they see the results from class — better bone density, lower cholesterol and stronger bod- ies—it’s not about the smoothies anymore.”
The social aspect of class is equally important as the physical fitness. Ridolfino notes that having fun and making friends keeps people young and helps to prevent other problems.
“Sometimes in class, someone will come up and share with me about a sickness or a loss in the family, and I encourage them to keep coming to class so that everybody can give them that extra attention,” she says. “You’ve got a bonding of friends here that’s unlike anywhere. That’s a big part of Kaunoa.”
Debby: Kaunoa RSVP Volunteer
The Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and better and prioritizes projects for each local community. It is federally funded by the Corporation for National & Community Service.
Numerous studies have found that when older adults give to their community, they also receive personal health benefits such as improved mental health, higher levels of happiness and reduced stress and lower health care costs.
In fiscal year 2013, 659 Kaunoa RSVP senior volunteers alone gave 61,548 hours to better the lives in their communities.
To reach the community, RSVP collaborates with local non-profit agencies and programs. One such partnership is with the La ̄haina ̄ Complex After School Enrichment Tutoring Program, where 3rd through 8th graders receive after school tutor- ing in reading, writing and math.
Debby Takahashi, 72, a former teacher at Baldwin High School, is on Kaunoa’s RSVP Advisory Council and has tutored 4th grade math for the past three years.
RSVP lets us care for people and be social, too. –Debby
“After I retired from 34 years of teaching, I was so afraid of not having a social base. I wondered what I was going to do during the day … of course, this was before I had grandkids,” Takahashi laughs. “RSVP lets us care for people and be social, too.”
WHEELS & HOT MEALS
Ruth: Beneficiary & Administrator
Ruth Griffith’s family received Kaunoa services, and is a prime example of the powerful impact that senior services can make on ku ̄ puna and their families. While Griffith and her brother were attending Mainland colleges, their parents became seriously ill. “I wanted to come home to help, but my parents didn’t want me to quit college. It was a family dream for us to go to school…my brother and I were the first generation,” Griffith recalls.
For situations where seniors are homebound, the center offers two programs — Assisted Transportation Program and Meals On Wheels.
The transportation program provides one-on-one escort services to help the frail conduct essential activities—shopping, banking, doctor visits—so that they can age at home.
Meanwhile, the Meals On Wheels Program delivers 400 hot, nutritious, ready-to-eat midday meals to seniors. “An important part of Meals On Wheels is the face-to-face safety check,” Griffith says. “Volunteers ensure that the seniors are well enough to answer the door. The check puts the family’s mind at ease and has saved seniors’ lives.”
These same services gave Griffith and her brother confidence in their parents’ care and allowed them to focus on school.
Griffith returned to Maui after college, yet she was unable to work and care for her parents. So, Kaunoa continued its support and services.
“The whole Kaunoa system held our family together … they did this for us for more than 10 years,” Griffith says.
Shortly after Griffith’s mother passed, the Kaunoa West Maui Senior Center opened its doors and she was hired as program assistant. “For me, it was the most natural thing in the world. It was fate,” she says. “I wanted to give back and directly impact other seniors and families of Maui.”
Griffith quickly moved up to assistant adminis- trator. That brought her to Kaunoa Senior Center in Pa ̄‘ia where she currently serves as administrator.
“Kaunoa has been a part of most of my life. I literally would not be here if it weren’t for its ser- vices. Being able to give back after having received so much is truly a blessing,” Griffith says. “That’s why I love Maui. We take care of each other.”
Across Maui County— including Moloka‘i and Lana‘i — there are many organizations that offer senior services. For example, Na Pu‘uwai opened a Department of Human Service licensed adult day care program on Moloka‘i. Certified nurse assistants keep kupuna busy with activities, including the development of a small garden that is harvested for making snacks.
On Lana‘i, the new (two year-old) Lana‘i Senior Center is a beautiful building that houses offices for the Maui County Office on Aging, Kaunoa and the DMV. It contains a dining room for the Congregate Lunch Program and classrooms for Leisure/Wellness classes and activities.
And in Wailuku, Maui, volunteers at the nonprofit Na Hoaloha —Neighbors Helping Neighbors have been helping Maui’s seniors remain independent for more than 17 years.
Executive Director Gerri Shapiro calls Na Hoaloha “Match.com for seniors.” Volunteers are carefully matched with seniors to create long-term relationships, providing services “from the heart.”