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Monday, February 12, 2001

Filipino Center
envisions link to
Waipahu’s past

The center, to be done in 2002,
will have shops, art and a
community hall

By Rosemarie Bernardo

The soon-to-be-completed Filipino Community Center will be part of a journey from the present to Waipahu's past.

Shoppers at Waikele will one day be able to hop on a trolley to the historical community of Waipahu to visit the Filipino Community Center, Festival Market and Hawaii's Plantation Village along Waipahu Street.

"What you find in Waikele, you can find in Oklahoma and Minnesota," said Rose Churma, interim executive director of the FilCom Center.

map What you find in Waipahu, you can't find anywhere else: the cultural roots of sugar plantation workers, she said.

Churma, along with other community members, are committed to strengthening the social and economical development of Waipahu as the Filipino Community Center goes up at Waipahu and Mokuola streets.

Darrlyn Bunda, executive director of the Waipahu Community Association, said, "We are working hard to get Waipahu on the map and show people its revitalization."

The Leeward Oahu Transit Management Association recently received a $27,000 grant funding a study to provide a means of transit to link Waikele and Waipahu, Bunda said.

Also, roadways from Village Park and Waikele are being constructed to connect the two regions into Waipahu's town core, Bunda said.

Churma said the 50,000-square-foot community center will consist of three floors. Commercial space fronting Waipahu Street will be available on the first floor. Dental and legal services have expressed interest in leasing the space, she said.

On the second floor, a 6,000-square-foot community hall with a full commercial kitchen and a 3,000-square-foot courtyard overlooking Pearl Harbor will be well-suited for banquets, weddings and baptismal parties, Churma said.

There also will be galleries showcasing contemporary Filipino arts and other multicultural groups and a community technology center on the second floor.

Organizations such as Healthy Start, Catholic Charities and the Pacific Gateway Center have expressed interest in providing health, education and job training services for the community on the top floor.

Senior citizens, who once were sugar plantation workers, contributed cash to the community center and await the opening of the center. "You get chicken skin," Churma said. "How can we fail?"

"They want to have a sense of identity with the building," she said.

Ewa Laird Smith, executive director of Hawaii's Plantation Village, which is within a mile of the FilCom Center on Waipahu Street, said, "Our main focus will be what makes Waipahu a rich cultural population."

Smith said collaborative projects will give residents and tourists "a total experience rather than going to one place." When one entity holds a community cultural function, community leaders will assist and collaborate to avoid conflicting schedules.

At the village, visitors will be able to learn about the history and the lifestyle of a plantation worker. "People can see an undiscovered old Hawaii that has been preserved," Smith said.

"Ultimately, it provides cultural identity and ultimately strength in diversity." Not only will it educate visitors, it will fuel the economy, she said.

At the future Festival Market in the original Arakawa's at Waipahu Street and Waipahu Depot Road, Bunda said fresh produce and arts and crafts will be available. There has been discussion of having emerging local artists display their artwork at the market. A heritage museum near the old Waipahu Sugar Mill is also being considered, she said.

Annette Yamaguchi, executive director of the Leeward YMCA and chairwoman of the Waipahu Neighborhood Board, said the YMCA and the FilCom Center have agreed to share programs and facilities. While parents receive job training at the center, YMCA will provide child care, said Yamaguchi.

Weekly and door-to-door fund-raisers continue to assist the FilCom Center with building costs. The center is expected to be completed by mid-2002.

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