Hawaii Foster Youth Receive National Award

Three young adults from Hawaii have received a national award that recognizes their outstanding leadership skills.  The National FosterClub annually recognizes 100 young people from across the country who demonstrate leadership, personal accomplishment, educational achievement, and service to their peers. FosterClub awardees range in age from 16 -24 and have spent a portion of their childhood in foster care.

Gernani Yutob, Jr. spent four years in foster care, including time in group homes and other facilities.  Today, he is a college graduate, a community role model, and a facilitator at EPIC ‘Ohana Inc., where he helps other youth aging out of foster care develop and implement their transitional goals.  Yutob, Jr. also spends time at the legislature advocating for improved foster youth services and programs.

“It feels great to be honored for giving back to the community. I did not expect this award,” Yutob Jr. said.  “But more importantly, the award spotlights the work of EPIC ‘Ohana and motivates the staff and clients to continue pursuing their goals.”

The Department of Human Services (DHS) contracts with EPIC ‘Ohana to work exclusively with foster youth.  Together, they strive to transform the child welfare culture through respectful, collaborative, solution-oriented processes that protect children, strengthen families, and enhance the health of the community.

Delia Ulima nominated Yutob, Jr. for the 2013 FosterClub Award.  Coordinator of the Hawaii Youth Opportunity Initiative (HYOI) with EPIC ‘Ohana, Inc., she told the FosterClub awards committee that “Gernani has developed into an exceptional young leader. He has served as a youth advocate for Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition and the HI H.O.P.E.S. youth leadership board for many years.  He is a wonderful role model and an inspiration not only to his fellow foster brothers and sisters, but to all those who are privileged to work with and learn from him.”

Yutob, Jr. served three years as president of the EPIC ‘Ohana program, Oahu HI H.O.P.E.S. Youth Leadership Board while attending college.  He says that experience provided him the political and social foundation he required to successfully lobby the 2013 legislative session on behalf of foster youth across the State.  He worked with the DHS director, family court, and legislators to increase Hawaii’s age for receiving higher education board payments to age 27, and to extend voluntary foster care to age 21.  He also lobbied for continued Medicaid coverage for aged-out foster youth until age 26.  Yutob Jr. says his future goals include attending law school, practicing family law, and becoming a family court judge.

Nanglar (Noy) Worachit a program assistant for HYOI, also received a 2013 Outstanding FosterClub Leadership Award.  The mother of two, vice president of HI H.O.P.E.S. Youth Leadership Board, and member of the Hawaii’s Juvenile Justice Task Force, worked with Yutob, Jr. to extend Medicaid coverage to foster youth until they reach the age of 26.

As a child, Worachit bounced between 15 foster care placements.  In an effort to be united with her siblings she also spent a year on the run.  During all that turmoil, she still managed to earn her GED and enroll in community college at age 16.

Worachit’s supervisor at HYOI nominated her for the 2013 Outstanding FosterClub Leadership Award.  “Noy is a very special young woman,” said Ulima.  “Not only is she a survivor, but she has a brilliant mind, a compassionate spirit, a strong need to seek justice for others, and the ability to communicate this need to others.”

In 2012, the Hawaii Partners in Development Foundation recognized Worachit as an Outstanding Community Contributor; she also received a fellowship with the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.  Worchit’s future goals include attending law school and becoming a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL).

“I had no idea about the FosterClub nomination,” said Worachit.  “The award is exciting to me personally, but it’s even more important to the community because it recognizes the work of EPIC and the HI H.O.P.E.S Board.   Foster youth can now access all kinds of resources in one place.  There is a lot to look forward to.”

Robert (Pono) Heanu-Toyama agrees that foster youth are looking at a brighter future.  A youth outreach coordinator with the Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition (HFYC), he worked with Yutob, Jr. to advocate for voluntary extension of foster care until age 21.  Heanu-Toyama spent eight years in the Hawaii foster care system.  He lost both parents at an early age, and became estranged from his siblings at age 14.  Prior to turning 18 he was already living on his own.  Heanu-Toyama is currently pursuing a college degree in psychology.

“I never saw myself as a leader before.  This award is very exciting because it helps me see what I can do,” said Heanu-Toyama.  “As a native Hawaiian I focus on the cultural values of ‘ohana (meaning “family” beyond blood relation) and hanai (informally meaning “adoption” regardless of age) because I don’t have a family of my own.  I created a family within the Coalition.   We even refer to Coalition meetings as family gatherings.”

Additionally, Heanu-Toyama mentors children participating in the Kids Hurt Too Hawaii program, and youth in the HFYC program.  He helps transition-age youth set and pursue personal and academic goals and access available financial resources.  “Given the struggles he’s had, Pono still managed to get his GED, and create a healing place for himself and others,” said Cynthia White, the Executive Director of HFYC and person who nominated him for the FosterClub Award.  “Pono has the ability to make youth feel welcome, and to feel a sense of belonging.  He has lots of heart and vision for his work.”

The DHS contracts with both the HFYC and EPIC ‘Ohana to provide services and programs for foster youth.  Both organizations operate drop-in centers where youth can receive assistance with resume writing, filling out college applications, and registering for college.  Services and resources are free of charge to current and former foster youth.

For more information about youth services and programs offered through the DHS, visit www.humanservices.hawaii.gov.

For more information about EPIC ‘Ohana visit http://www.epicohana.info/homepage.aspx

For more information about the Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition visit http://hawaiiyouth.net/

Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition

Governor Abercrombie Signs School Readiness Bill

Names New Early Learning Director for Implementation Phase

Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed Senate Bill 1093, a significant first step to transform early education in Hawaii and ensure that all island keiki have access to preschool.

Governor Abercrombie Signs School Readiness Bill Names New Early Learning Director for Implementation Phase

Governor Abercrombie Signs School Readiness Bill
Names New Early Learning Director for Implementation Phase

“In my 2013 State of the State, I described any failure to address early learning development as one of our state’s greatest unfunded liabilities; this bill breaks from the status quo and provides our first down payment on ensuring Hawaii’s keiki are prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn,” Gov. Abercrombie said. “No other piece of legislation this year was more important. I firmly believe that giving keiki a strong early childhood education foundation is the best, most effective way to empower their success in life.”

Gov. Abercrombie also announced the appointment of GG Weisenfed, Ed.D, as director of the Executive Office on Early Learning (EOEL). Weisenfeld will take over for Terry Lock, the state’s former early childhood coordinator who the Governor appointed as director when the office was first established. Lock has accepted a position with the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Education, where she will focus on the professional and leadership development of current and future early childhood educators.

“Terry joined my administration in 2011 and has been a steadfast leader for our youngest citizens,” the Governor said. “She and her team have made significant progress and established a strong foundation for early learning and development in Hawaii, including completing the strategic plan ‘Taking Action for Hawaii’s Children.’ As we enter this next phase of implementation, it means a great deal to me that Terry recommended GG to lead our efforts forward.”

A key component of the Governor’s legislative package, SB1093 (enacted as Act 151) establishes the Preschool Open Doors Program as the statewide school readiness program administered by the state Department of Human Services. The new voluntary program will provide access to school readiness services that address children’s physical, cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional development. The program will serve 4-year-old children, with priority extended to underserved or at-risk keiki, and those who are not eligible to attend public school kindergarten in the school year they turn 5 because their birth date occurs after the kindergarten eligibility date.

The bill also requires each provider to conduct school readiness assessments, give priority to children from low- and moderate-income families, and prepare children for school through either English or Hawaiian language.

The measure includes appropriations of $720,000 in fiscal year 2013 and $440,000 in fiscal year 2014 to fund three temporary positions and contract services, as well as an additional $6 million for program subsidies in fiscal year 2014.

About the New Director
Weisenfeld was most recently the director of the Hawaii P-3 Initiative at the University of Hawaii, where she aligned policies and programs between the early childhood community and the state Department of Education through researching and leading the development of the Hawaii’s Early Learning and Development Standards (HELDS). As an early childhood research specialist at the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, Weisenfeld facilitated the creation of a research-based design and implementation plan for a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for early childhood programs in Hawaii.

Weisenfeld has established herself as a champion of early learning, publishing numerous works on the issue. She honed her skills in New York’s early education system and has served in positions ranging from early childhood classroom teacher, to director of childhood services (including Head Start and Early Head Start), to assistant professor of education.

Big Island Police Initiate Manslaughter Case in Connection with Death at Care Home

Big Island police have initiated a manslaughter case in connection with the death of an 82-year-old man at a care home in Kailua-Kona.

On August 13, Kona patrol officers responded to a care home on Haʻokuni Street to a report of an unresponsive 82-year-old resident. Fire/rescue personnel took the man to Kona Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:58 p.m. He was identified as Oscar Ramos.

Police initiated a coroner’s inquest case.

An autopsy conducted August 15 determined that the cause of death was aspiration of food.

After consultation with Adult Protective Services, detectives focused on the level of care provided and a determination that the Department of Human Services revoked the caregiver’s care home certification on September 24 because of this incident.

Detectives conferred with county prosecutors on November 1. After that meeting, they initiated a manslaughter investigation.

Hawai’i Health Connector Permanent Board Members Seated July 1, 2012

Hawaii Health Connector, established to create and oversee the State’s health insurance exchange, seats 15 permanent board members this Sunday, July 1, 2012.

Cliff Alakai–Maui Medical Group
Clementina Ceria-Ulep, Ph.D., MSN, R.N.–Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE)
Joan Danieley–Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.
Jennifer Diesman–Hawai’i Medical Services Association (HMSA)
Patricia McManaman– Department of Human Services (DHS)
Beth Giesting–Hawai’i Office of the Governor
Michael Gleason–The Arc of Hilo
Robert Hirokawa, DC, DrPH, MPH–Hawai’i Primary Care Association
Faye Kurren–Hawai’i Dental Service (HDS)
Keali’i Lopez–Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs
Sherry Menor-McNamara–Chamber of Commerce of Hawai’i
Gwen Rulona–UFCW Local 480
Christina Mai’i Sakuda–Hawai’I Health Information Exchange (HHIE)
Hardy Spoehr–Papa Ola Lōkahi
Edward Wang–Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

The Connector’s aim is an exchange that is Hawai‘i-for-Hawai‘i, one that takes into account the State’s unique culture and works with the Prepaid Health Care Act, and employer mandate for health insurance coverage in effect since 1974.


During the 2011 legislative session, Senate Bill (SB) 1348 relating to the Hawai‘i Health Insurance Exchange received strong bipartisan support. On July 8, 2011, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law Act 205 (SB 1348, CD1) establishing the Hawai‘i Health Insurance Exchange Act. The Hawai‘i Health Connector (Act 205) provides the framework for a private, nonprofit quasi-governmental health insurance exchange that conforms to the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010. The Act also established an interim board of directors, appointed by the Governor to provide the guidance in which the establishment of the Connector was founded. Act 205 states that the Insurance Commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) shall determine eligibility for the inclusion of qualified insurers and plans. The Department of Human Services (DHS) will determine eligibility for applicants in the Medicaid adult and children’s health insurance program (CHIP). Act 205 was codified into law as chapter 435H, Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, establishing the Hawai‘i Health Insurance Exchange.

The Insurance Division of the DCCA applied for, and received, a Level I Cooperative Agreement to Support Establishment of the Hawai‘i Health Insurance Exchange in November 2011. DCCA in cooperation with the Connector is in the process of reassigning this grant to the Connector.

In December 2011, the interim board hired Executive Director, Coral Andrews to oversee the operational resources of the Connector, as well as recruit and hire the necessary staff needed to successfully implement the Hawai‘i Health Insurance Exchange. To date, the Connector’s staff continues to grow while working towards bringing transparent and affordable health care to the state of Hawai‘i.