Imua Family Services, a nonprofit organization that has been providing early childhood development services on Maui for more than 65 years, will be moving into a new home by the end of 2014.
The nonprofit organization began its operations in 1947 out of a small wood-frame cottage behind the old Kaunoa School in Spreckelsville but has been leasing space at J. Walter Cameron Center in Wailuku since 1973.
As demand for their services has increased over the years, agency officials said Imua, which now serves more than 3,000 disabled, special-needs or developmentally delayed children in the county, has outgrown the space at the Cameron Center.
The proposed new building for Imua Family Services will be located on Wakea Avenue in Kahului next to Easter Seals Hawaii. The features of the new facility include three “state-of-the-art” therapy rooms, a gymnasium, a group therapy center, an outdoor playground and an inclusion preschool, which will combine regular children with special-needs children.
Graphic courtesy of Imua Family Services
The proposed facility, a 10,000-square-foot, two-story "state-of-the-art" building to be located on former Maui Land & Pineapple facilities along Wakea Avenue in Kahului, will not only provide more space to accommodate increased capacity but will allow Imua to expand its services, according to the organization's executive director, Dean Wong.
"It's a very exciting move forward for the organization," Wong told The Maui News on Wednesday. "(It will) ensure Imua Family Services will continue to provide (for the) needs of Maui's children for years and years to come."
The new space will include three therapy rooms equipped with observation windows, a gymnasium for special-needs individuals, a parent and toddler group therapy center, a large conference room and classroom with attached service kitchen, a main reception area and an outdoor playground that will be in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Imua also will become the first and only organization in the state to have an "inclusion preschool program" that will combine special-needs or developmentally delayed children with regular children.
"The combination allows children with difficulties to mirror those healthier behaviors of the typically developing children, and on the other side of the scale, it teaches children with typical behaviors of development the tolerance, compassion, acceptance and kindness of having to learn to play with children with differences," Wong said.
He estimates that the new facility will cost about $2 million to complete. The agency started fundraising in February and has since raised $1.7 million through grants and donations. It has received $200,000 from Maui County; $475,000 from a state grant; $150,000 from the Will Smith Foundation; $50,000 from the Bendon Family Foundation; and $10,000 from Emerald Club Realty.
The agency hopes to start construction on the building by the end of this year and to complete construction by fall 2014, according to Wong.
The facility will neighbor the new Maui campus of Easter Seals Hawaii, a statewide organization that provides services for infants, children and adults with disabilities and other special needs. Easter Seals Hawaii, which owns the property, will be leasing the land to Imua in a long-term agreement that has not yet been completed.
"What we're creating is a campus for special needs learning," Wong said. "Bringing it together means we can collaborate a little more efficiently with each other."
Imua currently offers services for newborns up to age 6, while Easter Seals Hawaii provides services for individuals ages 6 to adulthood.
With the new partnership, though, the two agencies can combine their efforts, Wong explained. For example, the food prepared by special-needs adults as part of their training on the Easter Seals side can be used as snacks for Imua's preschool program, Wong said.
"We're very excited to be participating with Imua because they are a world-class provider of early intervention services," Easter Seals Hawaii President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Blanchard said. "The idea is to have a multi-generational campus for citizens with developmental disabilities."
The services that Imua provides have been critical for many Maui families, including that of Maui County Managing Director Keith Regan.
"Our son was born 10 weeks early, so we being first-time parents didn't know who to turn to or where to get help, especially dealing with a premature baby," Regan said. "The first people who reached out to us and offered assistance was Imua. They took us by the hand and led us through this process and helped us understand the challenges preemies have and worked with us to make sure our son was developing properly and receiving the appropriate physical therapy.
"They're like angels, it's just incredible. The people they have working here are just incredible."
Regan's son, Riley, is now 8 years old, plays sports, does well in school and is "just like any other 8-year-old boy," according to Regan.
"I believe it's because of Imua. They helped us get through the most challenging time in the most critical stages of his development cycle," Regan said.
Imua will be launching its public fundraising campaign next month to raise the remaining $300,000 needed for the building of the new facility. Community members will have the opportunity to purchase pavers that commemorate their names or names of family members who have been helped by Imua's services.
"When this organization first started in 1947, the people who started it were concerned about polio. Today, polio isn't the concern but something else is, and I'm sure 10 or 20 years from now, something else might come to light that we don't know about," Wong said. "I want to make sure that we're established to continue to meet those needs today and tomorrow."
For more information or to make a donation, call Wong at 244-7467 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.