Evelyn Wong, 83, enjoyed spending time in the day room at the Palolo Chinese Home. "My family cannot understand me," she says. "The people here understand me. I sure enjoy the environment."

Palolo Chinese Home to grow

Residents will share rooms
during the $18 million makeover

By Mary Vorsino

Evelyn K. Wong sat on a worn chair in the Palolo Chinese Home activity room watching the "Sound of Music" yesterday on a small corner TV.

A soft rain pitter-pattered on the roof and a cool breeze blew through the room's jalousie windows as the 83-year-old explained why she enjoys living at the home.

"They take care of me," she said. "My family cannot understand me. The people here understand me. I sure enjoy the environment."

Wong's environment will grow substantially in less than three years -- by the time the home celebrates its 88th year -- after the expected completion of an $18 million renovation that will more than double the home's capacity, to 140 residents from 60.

Fund raising for the project is already under way. Plans include:

>> Sixty-eight 480-square-foot, one-bedroom units and 20 480-square-foot studios.
>> A library and computer room.
>> A courtyard around a Chinese garden and koi pond.
>> A wellness center and clinic room with a pool and exercise equipment.
>> Community gardens and walking trails.

Aileene Wong, 93, said, "The food is good. We (all) get along."

Officials also hope to help more people through the home's Hawaii Neighborhood Outreach to the Aged, which provides meals, bathing and light housekeeping to neighboring seniors.

During the renovation, the home's residents will double up in rooms for about nine months rather than move out, said Leigh-Wai Doo, the home's chief executive officer and former city councilman.

The facilities are showing signs of their age with many of the home's structures dating back to the 1950s and '60s. The newest building on the campus, the Lani Booth Hall for women, was built in 1972.

Much of the red, green and yellow paint adorning the building is peeling or faded. In the activities room, the linoleum is scuffed and scratched, and the walls are grayed. The 45-year-old Victoria Ward Hall has a wide, dim corridor and bedrooms with only green privacy drapes to separate beds.

Included in the renovation plans is a $1,550,000 allotment for furniture and fixtures and $1.5 million for landscaping.

"We want to develop a home setting. ... (After the renovation) there will be greater privacy and greater opportunities for independence."

Palolo Chinese Home staff member Nemie Jose fixed the collar of 83-year-old resident Evelyn Wong yesterday as she stepped out into the day room of the senior care center.

Doo said kitchenettes and lanais in the planned bedrooms and studios will allow more residents to consider the home their home.

Currently, there is a waiting list for women wanting to enter the home, Doo said. He did not know how many women were on the list, but said because women historically live longer than men and "Chinese women live longer than everybody," the need for more rooms at the home "is clearly there."

The campaign for the renovation funds is centering on donations from the Chinese community, and the home's administrators have already targeted more than 40 of the largest Chinese organizations in Hawaii for donations. Many have promised to contribute, Doo said.

Construction on the home is scheduled to begin next spring, Doo said, but could be moved up to as early as late this year depending on the amount of donations.

Eunice Chang Lum Chun, 88, recently donated her portion of her Makiki house and two apartments to the home's renovation fund.

The home, which sits on a 15-acre parcel in Palolo Valley and was originally established as a response to an increasing number of familyless former Chinese plantation workers, now stresses a culturally diverse atmosphere with a local flare.

That's why Chun chose the home for her donation.

"They take all nationalities. They all get together," she said.

Chun also said that she is grateful that the Chinese tradition of taking care of one's elders is still alive at the home.

Her father and two brothers-in-law were once residents there.

Many residents say amenities and proximity to town are what drew them to the home.

Miriam Tom, a one-year resident at the home, said her family and friends visit often because they are so close by.

"The atmosphere is nice. ... You form your own group (of friends)."

Aileene Wong, 93, said, "The food is good. We (all) get along."

Back in the activities room, Alma Sofio, 104, sat in her wheelchair yesterday staring out the main window at the lawn as an aide leaned close to ask her how she was feeling.

Sofio, who can still walk despite her age, said the home is quiet but not boring and more than just a place to pass the time.

"It's the only home I have," she said.

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