Kōkua aku kōkua mai – Help others and be helped has been fundamental to Partners in Development Foundation’s Tūtū and Me program since its very start in 2001. On Maui, the program staff did just that in the wake of the tragic fires, working to reach out and support participating families as the community mobilized to help each other. Currently, the program is held at the Westin Maui Hotel, bringing a hopeful, joyful buzz to 27 families from Lahaina that attend each week.
With sensitivity to both staff and families directly impacted, the program started a new Parent Hui on Maui, creating a gracious space for connecting and healing together. Tūtū and Me’s Parent Education Hui aims to provide a lifeline for caregivers on Maui by emphasizing the importance of self-care, offering essential parenting insights, and fostering a sense of community among caregivers.
“This is just one of the ways that we are working to uplift the community of Maui as they continue to grieve and heal from the wildfires,” Amanda Ishigo, Tūtū, and Me Project Manager, shares. “Our entire Tūtū and Me team continues to look for ways to respond to the needs of our keiki and families on Maui. We hope to provide the additional support our families need for however long they need it.”
Tūtū and Me began serving the Maui community in 2008 and currently operates four sites serving a little over 650 Maui keiki and families each school year. This culture-based education program serves families with keiki ages birth to five in underserved communities on the five major islands in Hawaiʻi. The goal of Tūtū and Me is to meet the educational and emotional needs of families so that keiki will enter school ready to learn and succeed.
One of the remarkable features of Tūtū and Me is its adaptability. It is a traveling preschool that can go to communities, setting up joyful learning locations where they are most needed. When the program’s previous site in Lahaina became unsafe for families, the dedicated Tūtū and Me Maui team jumped into action to find alternative sites at parks that provided a safe space for the 72 keiki and caregivers who attended that location. They reopened three of the four sites the following Monday.
Mele Hooper, the Tūtū and Me Site Manager for Maui, expressed the mutual need for connection during challenging times, saying, “Our kumu needed to see our keiki as much as our keiki needed to see our kumu and play with their friends. We just wanted to be there for our keiki and families and provide a sense of what life was like before the fires. It has been heartwarming to see our keiki play and enjoy their time at Tūtū and Me.”
Staff were seeing children and families in great need, so the Maui Tūtū and Me office, which once held preschool supplies and books, is now stocked with new clothing, toiletries, and toys that were gathered from the Tūtū and Me families and PIDF staff and supporters.
Funding in part from the Maui Strong Fund of the Hawai’i Community Foundation has enabled the Partners in Development Foundation to extend a helping hand to families and staff affected by the wildfires. This support includes vital monetary assistance to aid in recovery efforts and more hands on deck to support the caring staff. Additionally, PIDF has received a significant in-kind donation of school supplies and backpacks from Kamehameha Schools and the Molokai community, further enhancing their commitment to the community’s recovery.
President and CEO Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni summarizes the organization’s collective sentiments, stating, “We all felt the devastating impact of the wildfires — the entire PIDF team, the families we serve, our staff and supporters. That motivated us to do everything possible to assist Maui families and keiki.”
Partners in Development Foundation is working to raise funds to bring its Ka Paʻalana preschool, serving families with young children, ages birth to five, with a literacy-rich, science-oriented, culturally grounded curriculum and instruction that also integrates trauma-informed care, crisis counseling, childcare, financial, and family strengthening into its daily program.