Mara Lockwood knows that the smallest acts can make the biggest difference. She’s seen it firsthand through Nā Hoaloha, a Wailuku-headquartered nonprofit that pairs community volunteers with seniors or persons with disabilities who need assistance with daily tasks—or just a friend to talk to. 

Three years ago, Lockwood, a Realtor-Broker with Maui Palms Realty, was asked to serve on the nonprofit’s board of directors. She accepted the offer without hesitation. “When I was approached to go on the board, my 93-year-old auntie, Fern Crum, was receiving services from Nā Hoaloha. As her primary caregiver, I couldn’t have continued to work if it wasn’t for Nā Hoaloha,” she said. “When I saw what a difference it made in her life, I decided to volunteer as a board member.” 

Nā Hoaloha (“loving friends”) was founded in 1995 by Sister Roselani Enomoto, who rallied several faith-based groups to help Maui’s seniors remain independent and out of long-term institutional care. When the organization first opened its doors, it had 57 clients and 35 volunteers on its roster. Today, there are nearly 400 active volunteers who lend a helping hand and compassionate heart to more than 1,300 clients on Maui, Molokai and Lanai—at no cost to the client. “Home care agencies, medical personnel, and human services workers routinely make referrals to Nā Hoaloha for their clients as part of their care planning,” Lockwood explained. “Volunteers fill a void in services not covered by traditional health plans and because there is no charge, it does not add any financial impact.” 

Services include a friendly visitor program (a volunteer visits and spends time with a client on a regular basis), telephone reassurance program (volunteers call once or twice a day to check in, offer medication reminders or just chat for a while), and a door-to-door escort transportation program. All three programs offer something many of us take for granted: companionship. For many homebound seniors, a visitor, phone call or simple trip to the grocery store can be a bright spot in their day—and can improve their quality of life immeasurably. Studies by the National Institute on Aging show that social isolation and loneliness is especially debilitating to older adults and can lead to serious health problems like cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease. 

“There can be a great deal of isolation and loneliness here in paradise for a senior who has a vision impairment, hearing loss, loss of mobility or ability to drive themselves to buy groceries, attend social functions or other engaging activities,” Lockwood said. “This condition leads to depression and has a negative effect on their overall health. A friendly phone call on a regular basis to say ‘aloha’ or a visit to talk story and share experiences can help reduce or relieve the ill effects and offer personal interactions that are crucial to well-being.” 

Nā Hoaloha also has an in-home respite program, which gives round-the-clock caregivers much-needed intervals of rest, and recently added a falls prevention volunteer program, which deploys volunteers to communities to help residents identify factors that contribute to falls (according to the Hawaii State Department of Health, falls are the leading cause of injury among Hawaii residents ages 65 and older). 

Lockwood is one of several Realtors Association of Maui members who have contributed to Nā Hoaloha over the years, either as a board member or volunteer. Among them are Dan Deknis of Keller Williams Realty Maui, Jan Anderson-Pung of UpCountry Realty and Kathi Fitch of Coldwell Banker Island Properties. 

Lockwood encourages others to consider serving on the board, signing up to volunteer, or making a donation to the nonprofit. “The most rewarding part of this organization is knowing that each day we get to make life better for another person because of the generous, giving spirits of the Nā Hoaloha volunteer ‘ohana,” she said. 

For more information about Nā Hoaloha or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.nahoaloha.org or call 249-2545.

The Maui News – March 2, 2020

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