Mike And Joanne Wood

Photo from the Wood family

When Ho’omalu O Na Kamali’i, a transitional center for children who have been removed from their homes after experiencing abuse or neglect, celebrated its grand opening in 2009, a state Department of Human Services official broke down in tears at the ceremony. He explained to the crowd that he often had to break up abusive situations, and many times the child would end up spending the night in his car or the police department. He had long dreamt of having a safe place to take the children – and now there is.

Joanne and Mike Wood, who is the principal and co-founder at real estate development company MW Group Ltd., created Ho’omalu O Na Kamali’i as a way to ease children into the welfare system, or provide a place for them to stay until they could be reunited with their family. Run by Family Programs Hawaii, Ho’omalu is a home in Maili that serves keiki ages 4-17, providing services on site that include health and dental exams and counseling.

“The day we opened, I thought, ‘I hope nobody comes,'” Joanne says. “But (the kids) are there. The problem is there.”

The husband-and-wife team also funds Ho’omalu in partnership with the state. To celebrate Ho’omalu’s fourth anniversary – and to honor Mike and Joanne for their instrumental contribution – Family Programs Hawaii hosts a fundraiser from 5:30 to 8 p.m. May 17 (Friday) at The Plaza Club.

Mike was inspired to help children in dysfunctional situations after experiencing a rough upbringing of his own. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers suffered from emotional issues. Mike worked after-school jobs to help provide for his family from the time he was just 8 years old.

To date, Ho’omalu has served more than 650 children. In addition to health and social services, the facility also assists in assessing children for placement in permanent housing. Children also have plenty of opportunity to just be kids, going on trips to the beach or nearby farms, and continuing to attend school.

“These kids realize there is something better in life,” Mike says. “They deserve it. It is not their fault they are in this situation because of their parents.”

In addition to their work with Family Programs, the Woods also have established scholarship funds at University of California-Berkeley and Mid-Pacific Institute, where a few of their grandchildren attend.

All proceeds from the anniversary event benefit Family Programs Hawaii to support its services and programs, which aim to empower children in the welfare system and encourage healthy family development.

The Woods continue to visit Ho’omalu every few months, when they have the chance to interact with the kids and watch them play.

“That is what makes your day,” Mike says.

The anniversary event features pupu, drinks, an auction and entertainment, and tickets cost $250. For tickets or more information, call 521-9531 or visit familyprogramshawaii.org.