Holiday Spirit Of Helping Hands

Jan Harada wraps up Christmas gifts for the Adopt A Family program. Photo courtesy Helping Hands Hawaii

Jan Harada wraps up Christmas gifts for the Adopt A Family program. Photo courtesy Helping Hands Hawaii

Growing up in the Hannemann household, Christmas was filled with laughter, music and magical moments. My sweet mother shopped for bargains year-round to make sure we had precious gifts during the holidays. They may not have been always the most expensive ones, but her philosophy was “the best gift to give a loved one is what they need, and as long as it is given from the heart.”

I had a new pair of shoes, pants or a jacket at the right times – although looking back, my poor mom was challenged with keeping up with the growth spurts of a son whose height was increasing 2-3 inches every year during his hanabata days. The warmth and love of my parents during Christmas never escape me as I further reflect on the sacrifice my father made to make ends meet in order to provide for us. We never felt deprived or inadequate because we were richly blessed with Dad and Mom’s mantra that there should always be “love at home” and that service to others was healthy and good for the soul.

Unfortunately, hundreds of families in our state will go “without” this month – even without food and the basic necessities of life.

“When you are struggling with poverty, loneliness or depression, the holiday season is not so much a time of joy as it is a time that magnifies those challenges and makes them seem even worse than they are,” says Jan Harada, president and CEO of Helping Hands Hawaii.

Her organization produces holiday angels who help fulfill family wish lists and give hope to those who are financially strapped, stricken with illnesses or are in dire circumstances through its Adopt A Family (AFF) Program. Helping Hands Hawaii’s mission is aimed at connecting individuals, families and organizations with essential human and material resources.

Through Adopt A Family, Harada’s nonprofit makes it possible for those with a generous heart, like Rick Humphreys, to involve their families in the spirit of giving.

“It was a very powerful and personal way to teach compassion to my kids, as they got to read about families very similar to ours, yet struggling through difficult times … It had such a profound impact on us,” says Humphreys.

Now, as vice president of Monarch Insurance Services Inc., he has engaged his colleagues at work to adopt the tradition.

“With the help of some matching donations, we were able to raise enough to support five families in 2012,” he says. “We are definitely participating again this year, and hope to recruit more friends and family to this wonderful program.”

Being on the receiving end is humbling for one homeless family forced to live on the beach. Their three boys struggled in school because of being harassed and teased, and with the help of some community organizations, particularly Catholic Charities and Maili Land Housing, the boys’ parents pulled their lives together in 2012 – both working full time, with mother working two jobs and adequately providing for the family – until the unthinkable happened. She passed away at age 30.

Her husband recalls last Christmas: “It was the holiday season, and I could not do this on my own. I couldn’t bring back their mom, but I could ask for a hand during Christmas, so they could have something to open.”

His children sold everything of value they owned to try to help with the household expenses and never asked for pity, just some Christmas blessings. The boys’ wish list consisted of basic items such as hygiene supplies, underwear, clothes and shoes.

“They were adopted in 2012 by a holiday angel, and their spirits were lifted and it gave them hope for the new year. They have since found permanent stable housing and are back on the road to recovery,” says Harada.

Another Christmas miracle involves a mother who escaped an abusive relationship with her ex-husband on the Mainland. She was forced to return to Hawaii with her children to gain better family support, only to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Her family was adopted and it helped them through a particularly tough holiday season during grueling breast cancer treatments, severe depression that stemmed from her rocky relationship, the loss of her parents and economic struggles because of unemployment. Harada is pleased to say: “That mother has since stabilized and is doing better in her health and her finances, thanks to donors who helped spread the holiday cheer. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, ‘Through all of my struggles and hardships, I always put on a smile, am there for my family, and won’t let the past ruin me.'”

Adds Harada: “With the help of our 60-plus partner agencies, we look for families who are most in need and vulnerable during the holidays.”

“Only families with verifiable holiday emergency needs are eligible to participate in the Adopt A Family Program,” says Amy Hennesey, a volunteer Helping Hands Hawaii board member. The most common items needed are pots and pans, bedsheets/linens, educational toys for elementary-age children, household cleaning supplies – and this year there is a demand for a simple Japanese toy called “kendama.”

The general public, including businesses, employee teams, social clubs, families and individuals, are invited to participate in the Adopt A Family program. You will be assigned to an ohana with specific needs to address during the holidays and provided with details of their predicament and/or difficult circumstances. To be a donor, call 440-3800, or for more information, email

The bottom line is this: Whether it’s Helping Hands Hawaii or some other notable organization anxiously engaged in a charitable cause during Christmastime, please contribute and offer your services so that the less fortunate and needy in our community can indeed enjoy a happy holiday season!