UH med students treat homeless’ social health
They serve drinks and act as mentors during Coffee Hour
Alana Sasaki and several other volunteers recently served 100 cups of coffee during the grand opening of Coffee Hour, a new social program to help residents living at the Next Step shelter in Kakaako.
"I think that brightens their day a little that they know someone cares about them," she said.
The warm cups of coffee and freshly baked cakes drew several residents last week to Sasaki, 26, and the group of about 15 University of Hawaii medical students working with the program.
Coffee Hour, the brainchild of Sasaki, a first-year medical student at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine, is held at the shelter Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Volunteers serve coffee, tea, hot cocoa, baked goods and fruit. They also help with job applications, resumes and interviewing skills. Children, who have to cope with limited study areas at the shelter, receive help with their homework at the tables set up during Coffee Hour.
"I can tell some of the kids weren't going to do their homework if we didn't ask them about it," Sasaki said.
She came up with the idea for Coffee Hour after a formerly homeless man shared his story about becoming homeless with her class a few months ago. She also saw the people living next door to her school and wanted to help.
During the grand opening last Wednesday, several residents filled out job applications or socialized with the volunteers. Sasaki's grandmother and a student baked cakes for the event.
"I learned that we have to keep going back," Sasaki said. "We just have to be there to help. Sometimes, just listen to what they want and provide a consistent support every week." Although UH's medical school already operates the Hawaii HOME project, a student-run clinic providing basic medical needs at the shelter, Coffee Hour embraces a different theme, addressing the residents' social health.
"Fifty percent of medicine is not the actual health care, it's dealing with the stresses in life and helping people cope," Sasaki said. "Wednesday night will be a more social and stress-reduction type of thing."
Medical students regularly spend 60 to 80 hours per week doing research, working in clinics or studying, and do not acquire school credit for their volunteer activities. Still, Sasaki and her classmates hope to keep Coffee Hour open every week until the shelter closes in March.
Melanie Payanal, a first-year medical student helping Sasaki with Coffee Hour, hopes surrounding businesses in the Kakaako area join in.
"If we can get relations in the way of hours or donations in the way of goods, we'd be more than happy," she said.
Darlene Hein, who works with Waikiki Health Center, an organization that provides resources at the shelter, was quick to support the student participation.
"Any help is good," she said. "It's helpful on both ends. Students have a lot to give, and the clients have a lot to teach."
The state opened Next Step shelter in May after the city closed Ala Moana Beach Park for cleaning, requiring the homeless to leave. The shelter, built for 200 people, houses nearly 300, a third of them children.
The students of Coffee Hour still need these supplies: a large coffee maker, coffee supplies, paper products, baked goods, fresh fruit, powdered hot cocoa and clothing for work attire.
They also need company sponsors to provide weekly baked goods and support. Volunteers who can help with mock job interviews, job skills, children's homework and mentoring residents are also needed.
To help, call Alana Sasaki at 808-728-9300 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.