From left, Myrna Cooper, Elizabeth Alapai, Sister Grace Dorothy Lim, Mary Judd, Florida Felipe, Ron Carlson and David Saludez celebrated the 30th anniversary of Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services Saturday night.

30 years of kokua
in Kalihi Valley

Kokua Kalihi Valley expanded
from health care into
an outreach and resource center

By Helen Altonn

Mary Judd remembers the night her husband, the late Dr. Charles Judd, had a call from the Rev. Jory Watland.

"He said, 'You've got to come up here to Kalihi,'" she said.

Her husband thought a sick person needed help, Judd said. "But it was a group of visionary people who got together and said, 'We have to have some health care above School Street.' There wasn't anything, and many people had no cars."

Sparked by Watland, a Lutheran minister, the dream began with a small group operating out of the minister's office of Kalihi Baptist Church.

With heavy support from volunteers, valley churches and the community, the program developed into Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, billed as "an agent for healing and reconciliation in the Kalihi Valley community."

More than 90 staff members who speak 17 Asian and Pacific Island languages work out of 11 locations. They provide health and human services to an average of 5,000 residents, said Watland, executive director since the center began.

"Just somebody you can turn to is what the role of Kokua Kalihi Valley is in Kalihi Valley," Judd said. "It's not only what to do about warts and blisters, a sore stomach and headache, but legal problems. What is this paper? Why do people say I owe them money?"

The staff operated out of surplus military trailers in the Kalihi Baptist Church parking lot until August 1985 when a building was constructed at 1846 Gulick Ave. by prison inmates.

In March 2001, a new Charles Judd Community Health Center was opened in the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Community Complex at 2239 N. School St.

Some of the center's pioneers joined in a 30th-anniversary celebration and tour of the facilities Saturday night. "This is a special blessing," said Elizabeth Alapai, member of the first planning group and an original board member.

"We didn't think it would last," said Myrna Cooper, one of the first bilingual aides with Florida Felipe, Frances Rowe and the late Florence Mow.

They did everything possible to meet family needs, going to houses and schools to connect people to health care, food stamps and other resources, Cooper said. But the annual budget of $32,000 barely stretched, she said.

"Whoever needed it the most got paid first," said Cooper, a trained teacher, who ultimately took voluntary leave so others could get paid.

The staff of Kokua Kalihi Valley operated out of surplus military trailers until August 1985.

"I've lived through the whole experience," said Maryknoll Sister Grace Wen, who served on the first board and joined the current board in January.

"Before, we were more concerned about, 'How do we take care of these people?' Sister Wen said. "Now it's, 'How are we going to support the programs we have developed?'"

Money is always a concern for the center -- now operating on an annual $4.5 million budget -- and how it might be affected by governmental regulations, said board president Geoffrey Pang. Long-term care and senior housing are major issues, he said, noting KKV just started an Elder Center.

Supported by grants, contracts, contributions and program fees, the health center's services range from health, dental and mental health services, behavioral health counseling and health education to distribution of food and clothing.

It has a Triage Room for patients needing immediate care, a Friendly Center for families and youths and a "Valley Van" to KKV sites for residents without transportation. It started a community development credit union, a "Read-to-Me" program and a resource center for Laotians, among other programs.

Wen said she is struck most by the expanded health services. She began with KKV as a "patient's advocate," visiting every house and apartment in the valley "getting more people to come."

She said needs today are about the same as in the past because of the continuing influx of immigrants and turnover of residents.

"You think you're finished, and there are newcomers and you have to start with the old program again," she said.

"Nobody is turned away. That is what I hope they will continue to do."

The health center is not just about patients seeing doctors, Watland said. "We're talking to them about their lifestyle. ... Our biggest area is maternal and child health, which doesn't identify anyone as a patient. You won't see a stethoscope in the whole area."

Even Dr. Judd dispensed advice for healthy living, Cooper said. "His main counsel was plenty of sleep and exercise and diet."

Judd and Dr. William Myers began volunteering medical services in October 1972 in a Kalihi Valley Homes apartment. In the next years, Dr. Ron Carlson voluntarily started a dentistry program, and Dr. Bob Wiebe served as a volunteer pediatrician.

Kokua Kalihi Valley now has six offices other than the health center and reaches thousands of students with health education, dental health screening and a band program in schools, Watland said.

"We figure music is one of the best ways for people to learn and develop all their senses, and if they develop better, they're healthier."

New things still are happening at KKV. A dental residency program began Monday, and the center is one of six sites nationally being considered for a federally funded women's health center.

"The most impressive thing about Kokua Kalihi Valley is that it was driven by community needs and a small group of committed people who wanted to see access to health addressed," House Health Chairman Dennis Arakaki (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley) said at the anniversary party.

"We owe a lot to the staff and Jory for maintaining the vision. ... Despite the economy being what it is, this place is thriving."

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