Off the Beaten Path: Love Thy Neighbor
The Waikiki Community Center brings residents and tourists together to volunteer and provide services for the community.
Since the height of Hawai‘i’s plantation days when workers from all over the world pooled their talents to bring sugar and pineapple from the arid earth, the isles have owed their rich diversity to many cultures.
Most of the state’s working plantations have come and gone, but remnants of the spirit of ho‘okipa (or Hawaiian-style hospitality) remain. I know because you still can find it at the Waikiki Community Center where residents and visitors work side-by-side spreading aloha and harvesting community spirit. For instance, Helen Murray, who lives in Texas half the year, is a volunteer Pilates instructor when she’s in Waikiki. And, 73-year-old Herman Tachera, who splits his time between
Hawai‘i and California, is teaching center members how to make traditional Hawaiian feather lei.
Murray says she got to know Waikiki while her husband was stationed at Schofield Barracks during the 1990s and during their many return trips as visitors, but it wasn’t until she started volunteering at the center that she began to envision it as her home forever.
“Generally, when you are a tourist, you only run into other tourists, but the center brings residents and visitors together in a small-town atmosphere. We meet there, make friends and see them all around this community,” Murray says, while taking a break from packing up her Texas condo so that she and her husband can permanently relocate to Waikiki.
As for Tachera, he said that taking and teaching center classes has enabled him to meet people from all over the world.
“Waikiki is a very popular winter and summer destination for tourists,” Tachera says. “I’ve made friends from as far away as Canada, Japan and Germany. Love of Hawai‘i is the common denominator. It doesn’t take too long and everybody knows everybody.”
Volunteers like these who came from afar and those that live on O‘ahu year-round help the center stretch its finite resources to serve more than 15,000 clients from preschoolers to the kupuna last year, says Caroline Hayashi, Waikiki Community Center executive director. Volunteers did everything from helping with the food bank, a community program that served more than 1,000 families last year to assisting with senior activities, which brought hope and purpose to more than 3,000 seniors.
“I think one of the more important things about the center is we have a very broad definition of community here,” Hayashi says. “We have many community members that come and use the center or volunteer that don’t live the entire year in Hawai‘i. But we don’t call them visitors because they consider Hawai‘i their home and they’ve become part of our extended family.”
Did you know?
In addition to its community activities and senior programs, Waikiki Community Center has a licensed preschool, which has been providing keiki an education for over 20 years. The preschool accepts keiki from 14 months to 5 years old and is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It strives to help every keiki enrolled to develop an understanding and awareness of the world through a multicultural environment and through community involvement. For more information, call the Waikiki Community Center Preschool at (808) 922-2098.
A three-time national award winning reporter, Allison Schaefers serves as the Waikiki Bureau Chief for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Based in Waikiki, she covers Hawai’i tourism and Waikiki issues. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.