Puna Resident Paula Kekahuna Recipients of this Year’s Jefferson Award for Public Service

Right on Auntie Paula!!!!  Big Island residents might also know Paula as one of the driving forces behind the Makuu Farmers Market.

From Today’s Advertiser:

To hear Paula Kekahuna talk, you’d think she was just a farmer, weaving haku lei, raising her family and minding her own business.

That image couldn’t be further from the truth. Kekahuna, 54, of Puna on the Big Island, is one of three men and two women named as recipients of this year’s Jefferson Award for Public Service. They will be recognized as Hawai’i’s unsung heroes Thursday at a luncheon. One of the five will be chosen to represent the state at a national ceremony in June in Washington, D.C.

Kekahuna’s husband nominated her for her dedication to the community.

“I didn’t know my husband nominated me,” Kekahuna said. “No one told me about it. I’m a very humble and shy kind of person.”

One of Kekahuna’s chief accomplishments was her determination to make the Maku’u Farmers Market an essential stop in the community every Sunday. As president and one of the founders of the association, her goal was to create a market and grounds that included everything from food and produce to culture and education for residents of the lower Puna community.

“She is a dynamic community leader on the Big Island whose actions have had a measurable impact on the lives of many,” said Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-2nd (S. Hilo, Puna, Ka’u), in his letter supporting her nomination. “Her unselfish acts to improve the health, welfare and self-sufficiency of residents in the Puna district are deserving of recognition.”

The market and the planned cultural center is on Hawaiian Homestead land, Kekahuna said. She started the market in 1991 with five vendors and now has more than 150 vendors selling everything from handmade soaps and crafts to garage sales.

Money raised from renting the space goes to support the market. The goal is self-sufficiency. They now have running water and the association has built bathrooms on the grounds.

But there’s never enough money when dreams are involved. The goal has been and continues to be construction of a community center at the 28-acre site.

“It’s in keeping with our community,” said the mother of three grown children. “There’s a lot of need to get our kids off the street. We do a lot of things for our community.”

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