Following financial problems, Curtis Kropar ended up living on the streets of his native Pittsburgh, Pa., on and off for several years, starting in his mid-20s. He had spent his savings launching his own business, and when his mortgage lender went under, he was left with no home and no money to fall back on.
“There were all of these prejudices and stereotypes that went along with it,” he recalls about being homeless, adding that others often assumed he had some sort of addiction. Luckily for Kropar, he had extensive knowledge of information technology and eventually was able to land a high-paying job.
About 20 years after his stint on the streets, Kropar moved to the Islands, and he now seeks to help others in similar situations. In 2005, Kropar founded Hawaiian Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to aiding the IT needs of other organizations, as well as low-income communities. Hawaiian Hope helps nonprofits build database systems and provides tech trainings. It also collects and repairs old computers to donate to nonprofits.
“You go to any nonprofit and there is just filing cabinet after filing cabinet of paper and forms,” Kropar explains, adding that he has seen this type of scenario at many homeless shelters. “If we can help nonprofits become more efficient at what they do, then they can, in turn, spend more time with the clients and be more productive.”
Hawaiian Hope’s latest project is an Internet cafe in Waianae that Kropar hopes will increase access to technology among homeless and low-income communities. The facility will provide computers for public use for just $1 per hour, and Hawaiian Hope also will conduct training sessions at the cafe.
“There is a growing divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ as far as technology is concerned,” Kropar says. “It is shutting these people out.”
For example, he says, many schools now require students submit their homework via email. And a recent Hawaiian Hope survey found that more than 60 percent of companies surveyed accept online applicants only – even for entry-level positions.
“Technology – even just learning to do the basic stuff – is going to give people the opportunity to apply for jobs or to even start their own business,” Kropar says. “Overall, it is going to directly impact their options in life.”
Hawaiian Hope does not receive government funding and survives on the work of its volunteers – including Kropar, who works as the executive director on a volunteer basis. “You know you have the right job when you wake up excited every single morning and you do it for free,” he says.
The Internet cafe is nearly complete, but Hawaiian Hope is asking for donations in order to finish construction. It also currently is seeking donations for a company vehicle and office space. To donate and to learn more, visit hawaiianhope.org.