HCC unveils new student-support center


Jolene Nakamoto, left, student navigator, and Craig Mitchell, program coordinator, at the opening of the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center on Monday at Hawaii Community College in Hilo.

Craig Mitchell, basic needs and HINET program coordinator, stands in front of food offered to students at the Kahuaola Basic Needs Center, which opened Monday at Hawaii Community College in Hilo.

Hawaii Community College’s Manono campus on Monday opened a new resource center offering students a combination of food, financial assistance and other services.

The Kahuaola Basic Needs Center also will serve as a hub for the HINET Ho‘ola Ike program, which offers students help with tuition and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, academic advising and reimbursements for books, supplies and transportation. HINET stands for Hawaii nutrition, employment and training.


“Over the past couple decades, the cost of attending college has skyrocketed while supports have not quite kept up,” said Program Coordinator Craig Mitchell. “We wanted to help students access the things they need like food, clothing and other programs like SNAP-EBT. All of these things, especially for working families, are essential for staying in school.”

The resource center was funded by the pandemic-driven Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, along with donations from the Stupski Foundation, a nonprofit investing in education, food security and other causes in Hawaii and California.

Additional food is provided via donations from The Food Basket, the college’s agriculture and culinary programs, as well as students and staff.

“This is a collective effort, and a long, ongoing effort to see what we can do” said HCC Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas. “Though we have some really concrete things that address food security, this is a resource center with a connection to the community.”

While the federal pandemic relief funds will end in June, Solemsaas is hopeful the resource center will continue.

“It’s nice we get this kind of funding from grants, foundations and federal grants to get our footing, but our plan is to sustain the capacity that we have here, because this is an ongoing need.” she said. “We’re hoping to demonstrate success so that eventually we can make our volunteers institutionalized, like the other services we have.”

The center also offers students financial literacy help with FAFSA and other scholarships, along with mental health and wellness support and resources related to housing and child care.

“During the pandemic, there was emergency rental assistance, internet assistance, changes to the SNAP policy, and it was all very confusing to staff and mystifying to students,” said Mitchell. “We saw a need to have a place that can help demystify these processes and help students apply to QUEST health insurance, apply to housing programs, access child care and even food.”

A recent survey from the University of Hawaii found half of Hawaii’s community college students experienced some type of basic needs insecurity including food, housing, child care and financial resources.

“Often there’s shame associated with asking for support with these needs,” Solemsaas said. “But by making these readily accessible and available to students, it becomes a gateway to understanding what else students might need.”

Those interested in volunteering or donating to the center are encouraged to reach out to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Christine Quintana at cdamate@hawaii.edu.

“A key part for our students succeeding is making sure we address gaps in opportunities that they might be missing, so they can try for themselves and for their ohana,” Solemsaas said. “This will be one part of our community college that is all about community.”

Email Grant Phillips at gphillips@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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