Coming together to assist disenfranchised communities | Hawaii Jobs

Coming together to assist disenfranchised communities

Intern Raquel Curtis, left, housing outreach worker Aashish Hemrajani, HR manager Joey Gabel, hepatitis care coordinator Sean Quigley, outreach and overdose prevention manager Leilani Maxera, housing outreach workers Tina Oh and Nicole Ward.

By Nicole Kato

Though only in existence for a handful of months, Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center (HHHRC) has been a catalyst for change within the community.

Nonprofits Life Foundation and The CHOW Project merged back on July 1 to form HHHRC, and with the union came the blending of missions into a single focus: to help marginalized populations, like those living with/or are affected by HIV, hepatitis or substance use, as well as the transgender, LGBQ and Native Hawaiian communities.

“It was natural for us to merge to create a more solid foundation,” said community engagement coordinator Keivalei Cadena. “We can provide the same services but on a greater scale.”

The two branches that make up HHHRC both started as small grass-roots agencies, and promotion from within will remain an important aspect of the new organization’s growth.

“Experience is just as important as education,” said Kelii Abordo, team lead for medical case management.

Although HHHRC does have positions that require licensure or certifications, much of the work-flow is based on gaining hands-on experience through community engagement.

Operations director Kavika Puahi, left, case manager Darren Sanga, events manager Andrew Ogata and executive director Heather Lusk pose with two Aids Walk participants.

“One of the most special things is that we hire from the community,” added Cadena. “Of course, we consider experience and educational background and the ability to do the work, but we make sure that we bring in people to HHHRC from families that are from the community and share life experiences of our clients.”

It’s a sentiment that continues to ring true for Cadena, who appreciates the overwhelming support from HHHRC.

“They help us to grow within ourselves,” she explained. “I started here with barely a high school diploma and … I’ve had support to go back to school and earn degrees. You start in one position and you’ll see how much opportunity there is in other areas.”

Empathy and collaboration is nothing new for HHHRC’s staff, which is diverse in terms of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and more.

“You can find someone you relate to here,” continued Cadena, who’s not only on staff, but also is a client of HHHRC. “The most rewarding thing to me is that I can give back to an organization that has supported me, but I can also give back to clients who have had similar life experiences that I’ve had.”

Inclusivity is also an important part of the organization, as is the ohana-style mentality of working together for a common good. According to human resources and office manager Joe Gabel, longevity at HHHRC is high, which he attributes to the inner workings of the office.

“We’re very much focused on the mission,” Gabel explained. “The people that work here are here because they want to help support the marginalized populations we serve.”

Seeing change come about within their clients is the shining moment for all involved at HHHRC.

“When we see our clients taking a step forward, it’s a huge reward,” Cadena added. “We look at their successes as our successes.”

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PHOTOS COURTESY HAWAII HEALTH & HARM REDUCTION CENTER

THE 411

COMPANY: Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center

LOCATION: 677 Ala Moana Blvd., Ste. 226

PHONE: 521-2437

WEBSITE: hhhrc.org

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Heather Lusk

EMPLOYEES: 54

BENEFITS: Full medical coverage, 401(k), paid time off, paid holidays, family-oriented work environment