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‘Tough choices’ in merger that ‘saved’ agencies

Blessing today in Happy Valley for family service organizations

April 5, 2013
By LEE IMADA - Managing Editor ( , The Maui News

The merger of Neighborhood Place of Wailuku and Child & Family Service that comes at a critical juncture for both agencies will be blessed at 9 a.m. today in a ceremony in Happy Valley.

"The merger saved both of us really," said Nicole Hokoana, director of Maui County programs for Child & Family Service, on Thursday.

Neighborhood Place, which was founded nine years ago this month in Happy Valley with a mission of "building strong roots in the 'ohana and in the community by promoting safe and nurturing environments," according to its website, had run into tough financial straits in recent years.

The nonprofit organization that offered family building programs grounded in Hawaiian culture and values was reduced to two staffers and running one program, she said.

"It was a tough time for everyone," she said.

In 2011, the founder of Neighborhood Place, Venus Rosete-Medeiros, approached the larger Child & Family Service about a merger.

"We have similar values and our way of serving the community is similar," said Hokoana. "We have a lot in common."

Child & Family Service, which had an office at the corner of Alamaha Street and Wakea Avenue in Kahului, was having its own problems. The agency with a statewide reach founded in 1899 and dedicated to strengthening families and fostering the healthy development of children had lost a few contracts and was looking to move from its Maui location in the industrial area in Kahului, Hokoana and a news release about the merger said.

The site just did not fit with Child & Family Service's strategic plan "to be more intimate, to get into neighborhoods," she said, noting that they did not get walk-ins on Alamaha Street where there were no residences in sight.

Neighborhood Place in the middle of Happy Valley, within walking distance of homes and families, fit that bill.

"They were really struggling, and we had to make some really tough choices," said Hokoana. "The merger is really great.

"It feels good to be in Happy Valley. . . . It feels right."

The merger was consummated in October, though Child & Family Service actually moved into the Happy Valley location in August, when it had to leave its previous site, she said. The facility will be known as Neighborhood Place of Wailuku, a company of Child & Family Service, Hokoana said. Child & Family Service wanted to retain the name recognition of Neighborhood Place and "keep the best of the two companies," she said.

Neighborhood Place clients will notice the change with additional programs - and 25 staffers in the office instead of just two, said Hokoana.

Neighborhood Place's "Kamalama," or "The Light," a 10-week parenting program, will continue, as will walk-in counseling, information and referral services, the news release said.

Child & Family Service will offer a total of six programs on Maui as well as services on Molokai through a staff of nearly 50 in Maui County.

Services focus in three primary areas: family strengthening; child abuse, neglect prevention and intervention; and sexual assault services through the Maui Sexual Assault Center. Child & Family Service also offers domestic violence treatment and prevention in collaboration with state and community providers, the news release said.

Howard Garval, president and chief executive officer of Child & Family Service, will fly in from Honolulu to join the blessing.

The 'olelo no'eau for the blessing is "pupukahi i holomua," or "unite in order to progress."

"Neighborhood Place of Wailuku staff will continue to be the trusted sources of information and support for the local families of Maui," Garval said in the news release. "This one-stop family service center is a model for Child & Family Service prevention services, providing a safe environment for families to find hope and support to address their specific social service needs."

* Lee Imada can be reached at



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