Look at almost every successful program or project in North Kohala and there is probably one solid, successful connection – they are under the sponsorship of the North Kohala Community Resource Center.
Though many people see the NKCRC as the group that operates the attractive North Kohala Welcome Center—visited by about 8,000 tourists yearly—the center is much more. The real work begins behind the information area in the center’s open-air inner offices and meeting room.
There, a bare-bones team of three staff members helps to build up about 85 local programs now under its fiscal sponsorship.
Christine Richardson, NKCRC executive director, stresses that the center doesn’t “give money away” to programs under its fiscal sponsorship, but instead “provides training, support and fiscal sponsorship” to local projects that benefit the community.
“I think it is a great model for rural community support,” Richardson said. “We often talk with other communities who want to replicate the program. We are successful in that we are an intact community with a lot of volunteers that have passion, drive and commitment.”
Projects that fall under the NKCRC umbrella include everything from the Pop Warner athletic program, the Kamehameha Day parade, Project Grad, HIP Agriculture and several other agricultural programs, and about a dozen local school programs including art, yoga, music and healthy eating, as well as many more.
Richardson said that some projects are one-time events, some are annual events, some are ongoing programs and some eventually branch off on their own.
NKCRC began in 2001 with founder Bob Martin. He was initially approached to help an anti-drug program called TEAM Kohala, but Martin saw an opportunity for a much broader effort that would benefit the entire community.
With the help of a well-chosen board of directors – all who are individually successful themselves – Martin was able to build an efficient program. He first got grant-writing experience himself through workshops and attended professional grant-writing programs to equip him.
“Bob Martin was one of the most understated and amazing people,” Richardson said. “People don’t even know all that he has done for the community.”
By 2002, NKCRC incorporated as a nonprofit. Martin convinced Richardson to serve as its executive director. A nurse by training, he saw her immense potential and funded her to complete a Certificate of Professional Development in Nonprofit Management to help her thrive in her position.
“She had the basis for tremendous successes because she knew a lot of people that crossed the whole spectrum,” Martin said of Richardson. “She cared about the community and was totally skilled. She is (now) probably in the top 20 executive directors in Hawaii.”
The program grew from a few projects in a small 300-square-foot building in downtown Hawi, to its current size and spacious building at the entrance to North Kohala in 2008.
The building gave them a natural donation source – with the best visitor bathrooms on the island and equally top-notch volunteer tour guides, the center meets the needs of tourists to the area.
“Visitors needed a place to ask questions and go to the bathroom, so we greet them with aloha, get them the right information and they have access to clean bathrooms,” Richardson said. “It has been really successful, and we don’t market it. People just come because they see the sign.”
“We serve a vital role in the Kohala community and we are going on our 13th year, so our staff and program is more seasoned now than ever before,” said board member Chris Helmuth.
In addition to Richardson, the staff includes Megan Solis, associate director, and Juanita Rivera, administrative assistant, as well as an active board of directors.
Members include Maile Lincoln, president; Gino Amar, vice president; Alida Adamek, treasurer and Joe Carvalho, Helmuth, Bob Martin, Amy Meyer-Sullivan, Wendy Nickl and Kim Takata.
“The board of directors are the heart of this organization,” Richardson said. “They are the most wonderful, diverse group of people from all different backgrounds.”
Richardson said the keys to the board’s success are their diverse backgrounds, their experience and their dedication to NKCRC.
“It’s a small town, and you see who are the people who step up and get things done,” Richardson said of choosing board members. “Everybody brings a different set of skills to the table.”
Becoming fiscally sponsored
To be accepted by NKCRC, a program or project organizer must first submit an application of sponsorship that is reviewed by the board.
“We go through a well-defined, 12-point criteria for sponsorship,” Helmuth said.
He said that points they examine when reviewing a program include: Is the project by people who live in North Kohala? Does it benefit people directly in North Kohala? Is it viable? Do the organizers have capacity and a reasonable chance at success? Is it a project that will bring the community closer together? And other similar questions.
“The piece that is most surprising is that knowing the life here — we are a relatively isolated community of 6,300-plus people — there could be this much creativity and resourcefulness in one place,” Helmuth said.
Project leaders who are accepted by NKCRC attend a series of workshops that train them to successfully navigate a start up. The day long workshops are entitled, “Planning Successful Projects,” “Researching Funding,” and “Writing Successful Proposals” with a critique of the finished proposal two weeks after the writing workshop.
The workshops are free for residents with projects in the area and can be attended by organizers outside the area for a fee.
Through the workshops, attendees learn to clarify their goals and how to streamline their programs. The key to their success, too, is that the NKCRC develops a relationship with their project leaders and helps them at all steps along the way to be successful.
“It is the organizers that have the vision – we help them shape it,” Richardson said.
According to Martin, the NKCRC has brought in about $10 million to the community.
“It is a model that works,” he said of NKCRC.
An example of a business that successfully became their own organization is Kokolulu Farm Cancer Retreats owned by Lew and Karin Whitney.
“The classes in grant writing provided help to us,” Lew Whitney said. “They were supportive and encouraging. Like any organization, you can’t just rely on them, but if you have questions, Christine has lot of advice, and they will review grant applications and give you guidance in what to add and what to eliminate. They have been very helpful and supportive of us.”
Whitney said with the solid start, they were able to build their business. He said he still volunteers at the center when his busy schedule allows.
“The resource center does really good work, and it has been good for the community,” Whitney said. “It provides a venue for people who are doing community work and are serving the community in a concentrated area.”
Frank Cipriani operates the aquaculture program at Kohala High School with a mission to “train and certify graduating Kohala High School aquaculture technicians for high-level entry into the aquaculture industry, internships, scholarships, and careers in aquaculture.” Cipriani said that since their program connected with NKCRC, they were able to apply for a micro grant and build up their program.
“Things are ongoing – it is exciting, and they have helped immensely,” Cipriani said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help and assistance. Christine is marvelous.”
The aquaculture program is just one of the programs NKCRC sponsors in the Kohala schools. There are music and yoga classes, athletics and other agriculture programs and healthy lifestyles programs.
Richardson said she is grateful to have a job where she helps community members develop ways to serve their community through diverse programs that help residents of all ages.
“I love it and a lot of it is because of the mission,” she said of her job. “This mission is all about good stuff. How great is that when I unlock the door every day? It is very upbeat, very inspiring and a lot of fun.”
NKCRC Recognition Dinner is April 12
All are invited to The 2nd Annual North Kohala Community Resource Center Recognition Evening, 5-9:30 p.m., Saturday, April 12 at Puakea Ranch in Hawi. Kapena is the musical entertainment, and the night includes a live auction, and pupus provided by 12 Kohala restaurants, cash bar and much more.
The theme for the evening is the agricultural projects and NKCRC will be honor four of their successful programs.
The live auction will feature a five-course wine-paired feast for 10 at Hawi’s newest restaurant, Local Dish; weekend getaways at the exclusive Puakea Ranch and Hawi Plantation House and much more from the Hilton Waikoloa, Elements of Hawi and Nanea Golf Club.
Tickets are $65 reserved seating; $50 unreserved. For more information, call the center at 889-5523 or visit www.northkohala.org.