We are excited to announce the winner of the Mobile Beacon Moments Storytelling Contest.
Congrats to our #MBMoments winner, Dynamic Community Solutions! Thanks to everyone who shared, voted, and learned about the organizations we serve!
DCS's Mobile Beacon Moment
If awarded with a Mobile Beacon Community Grant, how will your organization use the monetary donation?
Our organization, Dynamic Community Solutions, was created by and for the people of Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae (Refuge of Wai’anae), a community of roughly 250 houseless people on the island of O‘ahu. This is a place of healing for formerly homeless individuals -- children, working families, and elders alike -- who lack material houses, but have found a lasting home in one another. Twinkle Borge, long-time resident and leader of Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae, is quick to counter stereotypes: “Not homeless -- a village without a place.”
But soon, this will change for good. During the next couple of years, the village residents will transition from their current location to a 20-acre plot of agricultural land that they purchased with the help of generous donors in March of 2020. Many residents still find the reality of the situation hard to believe. Never again will they need to stay up on stormy nights to mend leaks in their tarp roofs. Never again will the very fabric of the village be endangered by homeless sweeps. This new chapter brings with it a chance to build Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae’s dreams into the very design and structure of their new home.
If awarded with a Mobile Beacon Community Grant, we will mobilize the $10,000 award to be the inaugural donation that kick-starts the process of building the village’s Hale Hālāwai (Meeting House). An integral part of Twinkle’s vision has always been the creation of a gathering place where the village children, all 40 of them, could meet and learn with one another. Now, equipped with the land to build this pavilion on, her aspiration is no longer out of reach. It wasn’t until she saw the architectural renderings with her own eyes that Twinkle could believe that her dream of a Hale Hālāwai would finally come true.
The Hale Hālāwai will be more than just a hotspot with a roof fixture. For our formerly homeless residents, it will signify a level of stability that has been unattainable for far too long. The outdoor learning space in which the children of Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae currently gather to attend their online classes is a makeshift tent, permeable to the wind and rain. Having a sheltered meeting place will give students the peace of mind they need to focus on their education. The Hale Hālāwai will become the solid ground in which an environment conducive to learning can take root.
The branches of this tree will extend beyond the village, sheltering the children of the Wai‘anae community at large. The largest ethnic groups represented in this town are Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and as such, many of its residents have been historically underserved and marginalized. Statistics reflect the severity of this fact: ProPublica, which uses the National School Lunch Program as a proxy measure for the concentration of low-income students within a school, reports that 91% of students attending Wai‘anae Elementary School are eligible for free/reduced price lunch. This is markedly higher than the average of 38% of students in participating schools across the state. The Hale Hālāwai will be open to any child who needs a safe place to go, whether to engage with online course materials, finish homework assignments on the weekends, or simply enjoy an after-school snack.
Through its tireless commitment to community service, Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae has gained the trust of families in the broader community. Once built, the Hale Hālāwai will become an educational asset to housed and unhoused children alike, for many generations to come.
How will your organization use the 10 mobile hotspots with free internet service?
Since August 2020, when the village received its first and only Mobile Beacon hotspot, Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae has been supporting the education of its ~40 children with this hotspot alone. While residents are more than grateful for this life-altering tool, it still “takes a village” to meet everyone’s needs: due to the increased demand during the pandemic, many still resort to less reliable sources of internet connection. School-age children, who are expected to log onto their Zoom classrooms every day, must find adults willing to lend their mobile data. Resourceful parents, prioritizing their children’s education, are forced to walk to the nearby McDonalds or Pizza Hut when they themselves need to access the internet. Though their resilience is admirable, the sacrifices and compromises made could have easily been avoided.
If awarded the Mobile Beacon Community Grant, residents of Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae will never again need to face this worry. Assuming that each hotspot will support up to 10 devices, an additional 10 hotspots with free internet service will grant every student in the village a fair chance at learning outside of the classroom. Even after the pandemic, online learning tools will most likely remain an integral part of our educational system. A growing number of degree programs are offered online, and internet access would allow younger students to pursue ever higher levels of scholarship, as well as older students to resume their schooling.
With 10 additional hotspots, all students living in Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae could access the internet simultaneously, and allow yet more villagers to connect their devices as well. This, of course, would not go to waste: working adults would also be grateful beneficiaries of this service. Whether to find job opportunities or to send a resume, internet access is now a vital part of the labor market and will become even more so in the future for those looking to support their families.
In addition, many government services have migrated online during the pandemic, leaving those without internet access at a great disadvantage. One such service was the stimulus check application in May 2020. Many of the village’s older residents had given up on it entirely after learning that, in order to apply, access to a computer, an email address, and a phone were necessary. Luckily, two of our most computer savvy residents stepped up to help all eligible members of the village and surrounding houseless communities receive their stimulus checks, putting a total of over $180,000 in their pockets. It did, however, take an excruciating amount of time for the two women to process more than 150 applications on two laptops tethered to a smartphone. With more hotspots available to use, monetary support could more easily make it into the hands of those who need it the most.
Mobile hotspots have the added benefit of being a portable source of internet connection, which would be of great assistance to the village’s outreach efforts. Being part of the houseless community itself, Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae is a crucial link between homeless individuals and the social services they need. Currently, when village residents visit other homeless encampments around the island, all notes are taken down by hand. If a mobile hotspot could provide access to a centralized database during these excursions, this could be a much more streamlined process. In the future, Twinkle aspires to develop a mobile application to facilitate the statewide coordination of grassroots efforts. This grant could pave the way toward this dream and so much more.
The internet is the great modern equalizer, but it only functions as such when it can be accessed freely by those who need it most. Made available as a community asset in the village’s Hale Hālāwai, these hotspots will help to remove some of the most imposing barriers faced by unhoused individuals living in Wai‘anae today. The ideas listed here are only the most urgent of many more; the sky would be the limit in this roofless community, were they to be empowered through unlimited internet access.
Share Your Story
It was in the summer of 2020, two weeks before the beginning of the school year, that many of Hawai‘i’s public schools announced that distance learning would be the primary curriculum for the foreseeable future. Following that announcement, teachers, students, and parents alike were forced to scramble to gather their bearings. But no demographic was less prepared for this sudden shift than the more than 3,000 homeless students across the state (estimates based on 2018 data released by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness).
Twinkle found herself faced with an impossible task: how would she secure enough laptops and hotspots for the children of Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae? Many of the residents were already worn down from dealing with the harsh realities of life during a pandemic. If not burdened with financial and medical difficulties themselves, villagers were often attending to the needs of other houseless communities around the island, organizing their forces to help connect them to social services, clean the public restrooms, and distribute masks and hygiene items. With their resources stretched thin, Twinkle knew that the village would need all the help it could get to ensure their students could continue their schooling.
After frantically reaching out to several friends of the village, one particularly generous donor stepped up to the challenge. Twinkle and the other members of Dynamic Community Solutions had set their sights on a Mobile Beacon Hotspot, having heard about its efficacy and affordability from another nonprofit organization. The donor, who asked to remain anonymous, graciously agreed to provide the funds for this hotspot, along with eight laptops for village students to share. With the application for hotspots completed in late July, the suspense continued for a little while longer. Would the hotspot be set up in time for the upcoming school year? Parents prepared for a “plan B” situation, adjusting their schedules in case they would need to walk to their children’s schools to pick up physical copies of classwork.
Luckily, the hotspot arrived just in time. Without the donor’s timely help, Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae would not have had the means to send its students to school this year, so long as the curriculum remained online. Worst case scenario, this could have set some of them back by a whole year: one of the houseless children attends a specialized school for the deaf and blind, an hour’s drive away from the village. Thanks to Mobile Beacon, he and the other children have been able to keep their education on track. As difficult as 2020 has been, access to the internet has enabled them to reap the full benefits of their resilience.
For the full story of Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae, please visit https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Xu4jfX-gJzSAx1GZWEMFJxNNxitcQTQ7D6Sr7SVt8Rc/edit?usp=sharing to view a slide deck on the village’s model and upcoming developments, and https://www.alohaliveshere.org/about-us/faq" for answers to frequently asked questions.