big island kupuna gets a fresh start in new home

Lynn Shibuya
March 21, 2024

Big Island resident John Hutchinson is a kupuna, a veteran, a music enthusiast, and a home cook who can make a mean enchilada.

A year ago, Hutchinson was facing the risk of homelessness after landing in the hospital following a debilitating stroke. Hutchinson’s home at the time was not in good condition and when he was released from the hospital, he had nowhere to go.

It starts with HOPE
HOPE Services Hawaii, a Big Island nonprofit affiliate organization of the Roman Catholic Church in the State of Hawaii, was there to help Hutchinson in his time of need.

Hutchinson moved into the Sacred Heart Community in Pahoa, which has two developments – an emergency homeless shelter and a housing development with affordable studio homes for seniors. 

Hutchinson stayed at the shelter for eight months and worked with a Department of Veterans Affairs representative to apply to live in the housing development, which consists of 12 modular studio homes.

Just before Christmas last year, Hutchinson received the good news – he would be moving into one of the studios. Each studio has a kitchen, bathroom, and lanai. The site also includes a resource office where residents can connect to supportive services.

Sacred Heart Affordable Housing Project in Pahoa has 12 modular studio homes for kupuna in need.

Keeping kupuna safe 
HMSA was one of the donors who supported the Sacred Heart Affordable Housing Project with funding and by furnishing the home where Hutchinson now lives.

Marlo Lyman-Kekaualua, an HMSA Keaau office employee, selected the furniture, decor, and essentials for the home, which is aptly painted blue, one of HMSA’s brand colors. She and her family members also volunteered their time to make sure the unit was ready for the kupuna resident. 

Lyman-Kekaualua says supporting the project was special to her because it meant a kupuna would not have to live on the street.

HOPE Services Hawaii is proud to support people in need through their services, shelters, and housing. 

“This project shows that when the community works together, we can provide our houseless neighbors with what they need most – housing,” says Brandee Menino, CEO at HOPE Services Hawaii. “We’re grateful to our supporters like HMSA who made this possible, and we’re looking forward to the next phase of this project, which will house families.”

Social determinants of health
"Social determinants of health" can sound intimidating, but it’s a simpler concept than you may think. They’re the factors that can have a significant impact on a person’s health and quality of life, such as access to education, health care, housing, a job, and nutritious food. 

As a health organization that works to improve the health of individuals and communities, HMSA understands the importance of addressing social determinants of health throughout the state of Hawaii. 

Through the HMSA Foundation and corporate gifts, grants, and sponsorships, HMSA invests in partnerships with communities to improve health in all five of the social determinants:

  • Economic stability, employment, and food.
  • Education.
  • Health care access and quality.
  • Neighborhood, housing, and transportation.
  • Social and community context.

Learn more about HMSA's community health initiatives.

Welcome home
In his younger days, Hutchinson worked as a radio announcer and sales representative. He was also an engineer for the United States Marine Corps.  

Hutchinson is grateful to have a safe place to live at the senior housing project as he continues to recover from the stroke, which left the right side of his body partially paralyzed. 

He rides his bicycle to and from the store, which is a way for him to exercise. His hobbies include playing ukulele and harmonica, watching movies, listening to music, and cooking Mexican and comfort food. 

"My friend loaned me her library of music and movies and it’s got 200 titles in there, so I need to sit down and get enveloped in all that," he says. 

John Hutchinson in his new home. 

Hutchinson lost 30 pounds when he was in the hospital but said the hearty dishes he cooks at home helped him gain five pounds in the last year. 

Hutchinson is thankful for the support of HOPE Services and his Veterans Affairs representative.

"Something that’s paramount for me is that they have gone over the top to help me find my way. I was the first veteran to be housed in the permanent system here and they worked hard to help me get here. I am forever grateful – they saved me from going on the streets, which would have been intolerable. I could go on forever and say thank you, thank you," Hutchinson says.

"For other people out there, if they ever wind up in a situation, there’s a long road ahead but there is hope out there. There is a way to go. Someone will help you survive," he adds.

Keep reading
Learn how HOPE Services Hawaii supports kupuna health on the Big Island in the spring 2024 issue of Island Scene and check out these articles about community health: 

caring for our families, friends, and neighbors
See how HMSA works with key stakeholders to care for the people of Hawaii.

ke ola mamo: advocating for community health
Ke Ola Mamo is a nonprofit organization that has been humbly serving the community with health care services for more than 30 years.

a partnership for lung cancer screening awareness
Lung screenings can save lives. HMSA partnered with Hawaii Pacific Health for a day of education and outreach at the Nuuanu YMCA.

Photos courtesy HOPE Services Hawaii and HPM Building Supply. 

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