Nonprofit Helps Native Hawaiians Improve Marriages, Parenting

Keiki O Ka ‘Āina Family Learning Centers (KOKA) is a Native Hawaiian nonprofit organization established in 1996.  KOKA strives to strengthen communities by building strong families within the context of Hawaiian culture, values, and traditions.Couples take courses in relationship building.

To achieve that goal, KOKA seeks to address issues that adversely affect the well-being of Native population in Hawaii. It recognized the community’s need for effective, culturally appropriate curriculum about healthy relationships and stable marriages and developed the Ho’ohiki Pilina Project as a result.

The project’s target population included married couples, single parents, pregnant teens in public high schools, at-risk middle school students, parents incarcerated in both the men’s and women’s correctional facilities, and youth in the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. Project staff tailored  the “Loving Couples, Loving Children” curriculum by incorporating Native Hawaiian values, and added sections about financial literacy, successful co-parenting, and military deployment and reunification. 

After receiving training to implement the curriculum, eight facilitators provided workshops to:

  • 132 Native Hawaiian couples;
  • more than 100 incarcerated women;
  • 20 Native teenage mothers and fathers from a local high school;
  • multiple classes of high-risk youth in public middle and high schools, and
  • more than 20 youth in the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.

A total of 775 people, including 386 families, successfully completed curriculum sessions over a five-year period.

Facilitators reported seeing considerable positive changes in participants.  Many couples stated the classes saved their marriages and families and that the training increased their ability to maintain healthy relationships.  The deployment and reunification component met many needs of military families, since nothing like this had previously existed.  Women transitioning out of prison also learned skills make reuniting with their families easier, such as learning to value themselves and set boundaries. 

Students more effectively interacted with teachers and family members thanks to skills they learned in the curriculum, such as preventing harmful fights. Most importantly, children of couples who participated will now have positive relationship role models, and the Native Hawaiian community has embraced healthy relationship education based in their cultural values.

Established in 1974 through the Native American Programs Act (NAPA), the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) serves all Native Americans, including federally recognized tribes, American Indian and Alaska Native organizations, Native Hawaiian organizations and Native populations throughout the Pacific Basin (including American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). 

ANA promotes self-sufficiency for Native Americans by providing discretionary grant funding for community-based projects, and training and technical assistance to eligible tribes and native organizations.

The KOKA project was awarded as part of the Administration for Children and Families’ Healthy Marriage Initiative.