Nicole Fong

Photo courtesy of Bonnie Fong

A teen’s 16th birthday is always a special occasion. But when Nicole Fong of Diamond Head celebrated hers last month, she made it a special occasion not just for herself, but also for keiki at the Ma’ili Land Transitional Housing Program.

“Instead of having people bring me birthday gifts, since I already kind of have everything I need, I thought it would be good if they could bring something for the kids instead,” says Fong, who will be a junior at Punahou School.

Located on the Waianae Coast, the program is run by Catholic Charities Hawaii. It provides housing assistance for families with children under age 19, while helping them become more self-sufficient through services that include budget counseling and career training. The goal is to have residents transition into permanent housing within two years.

To throw the event, Fong prepared for several weeks. First, she had to spread the word to her friends and classmates. Then she went out to Ma’ili with her mom Bonnie, where they found out what items the children need. Fong hosted the fundraiser at Moose McGillycuddy’s Pub & Cafe, which donated $200 to the cause. Fong’s hard work proved to be worth it – she had garnered a mass amount of support, with about 200 people attending the fundraiser. Together, they collected 704 gifts to be donated.

The next day, Fong and a few friends delivered the gifts to Ma’ili. A majority of the items were clothes and toys, like Barbies, Play-Doh and Frisbees. “But a lot of the kids don’t even have the necessities, like toiletries, so we also gave them some of those,” Fong says.

Ma’ili will give tokens to children when they do a good deed, and the tokens can be exchanged for one of the gifts – the sort of dynamic that illustrates Ma’ili’s overall philosophy. “(Ma’ili’s) whole initiative is not just giving the homeless money, but actually helping them make a change in their lives,” Fong says. “They teach the homeless families (skills) and help them apply that knowledge. That’s why I chose Ma’ili. It’s helping (homeless families) help themselves.”

Fong says that the project also enabled her friends to see that community service can be fun. “A lot of my friends want to help out in the community, but they don’t really have time, and they don’t really know how, so it was a good opportunity for them to give back,” Fong says.

Fong has participated in a number of community-service activities previously – and is already nearly complete with her school service requirement – but this is the first big event that she coordinated on her own. She hopes to do a similar one in the future. “There are so many groups that we can help, and there are so many people who need help out there,” Fong says. “(Homelessness) is an ongoing situation that can always be addressed.”

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