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A gift for inmates and their kids

Angel Tree reminds youngsters they are not forgotten

A child, whose parent is incarcerated, totes some of her Prison Fellowship Angel Tree gifts Saturday in Happy Valley. Volunteers with Upcountry Calvary Chapel participated in the program for the fourth year. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photos

WAILUKU — A group ready to play Santa Claus circled around a Makawao room, awaiting instructions on how to approach homes with local children whose parents are incarcerated.

“Remember, the dogs goin’ be in the front and the house goin’ be in the back,” said Randy Konohia. “Don’t force. You may have some resistance. Some people may be shame. Don’t judge. Just pray.”

Konohia was helping Pastor Rick Nagura of Upcountry Calvary Chapel last weekend as they prepared to distribute gifts to more than 120 Maui children whose parent, or parents, are in jail.

The effort is part of a national Prison Fellowship nonprofit program called Angel Tree, which connects volunteers with inmates requesting gifts for their kids.

Konohia, a Wailuku resident, is a former inmate, who while incarcerated participated in Angel Tree to get presents to his young children, who are now adults.

Randy Konohia, an Upcountry Calvary Chapel member, hands out gifts as part of nonprofit Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree, a program that connects volunteers with inmates who are requesting Christmas gifts for their children.

In his early 20s, Konohia said he was sentenced to 20 years for “beating up” another man. He served 12 years of it until his name was called to go home. He was in a Mainland prison at the time and got to return to Hawaii to begin the process of transitioning out of the prison system.

“When I found out I would be coming home, I did one big ‘cheehu’ in my cell,” he said. “That was the first miracle in my life when I knew God was real.”

Now, with a radical transformation story, he is the one helping purchase and deliver gifts with the local effort, which is in its fourth year at the Makawao church.

“It’s awesome,” Nagura said. “You get different reactions. Some kids are so excited, they say, ‘Ho, that’s for us, we can take that?’ Some, it’s just handing out. Some are more shy or shame. It’s just a great way for us to reach out to the community.”

Angel Tree gives thousands of incarcerated parents across the nation a way to provide a Christmas gift and a personal message, delivered by local volunteers, as a “tangible representation of their love,” according to the Prison Fellowship nonprofit.

Messages written to Maui kids were added to many of the gifts. “Merry Christmas! I Love You, To The Moon And Back”; “Dad loves you”; “Don’t forget about me — I yearn to know your heart.”

Leading up to the distribution, volunteers purchased general gifts requested on a form. On Friday night, dozens of chapel congregants wrapped the gifts. Then, Saturday morning, volunteers broke out into smaller groups to deliver the gifts to areas around Maui.

Konohia said holidays, though, aren’t without lots of hurt for kids, caregivers and incarcerated parents. This specific Christmas outreach also is wrapped in tons of pain, especially in a tight-knit community.

“It’s especially hard in Hawaii, because we’re so connected to family and to each other,” said Kahanu Konohia, Randy’s wife.

Randy added that inmate suicides spike over the holidays, and it’s easy to think about taking the easy way out when pain gets too tough.

“You really see the hardships, and it makes you appreciate what you have,” Kahanu said.

Another way volunteers reach out is by inviting caregivers to bring children to annual Camp Agape, a local camp for kids of incarcerated parents. The next one is slated for June 26 to 29.

Kristen Nagura, Rick’s wife, said that through the prison outreach, which includes the camp and the Christmas gifts, children are reminded they’re not alone.

“We want them to know they’re not overlooked,” she said.

For more information about Angel Tree, visit www.prisonfellowship.org. For information on Camp Agape, email mauicampagape@gmail.com.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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