Let’s catch you up with the latest news on Ho‘ōla Nā Pua’s Pearl Haven, a residential facility for exploited youth. Still & Moving Center has followed and supported the program’s journey over the years in whatever little way possible. Today we’d like to share with you the terrific news that the hard work of everyone involved at Ho‘ōla Nā Pua has brought Pearl Haven to life. Pearl Haven recently completed its renovation and has welcomed the first four girls into this safe residential treatment facility where children, ages 11-17 who are victims of sex trafficking, can come to heal and recieve the specialized care they need – not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.
In the summer of 2019, two dozen Still & Moving Center participants gathered at the grounds of what would become Pearl Haven. The Still & Moving Center clean-up crew helped remove graffiti and debris around a property that had previously been abandoned. Among the clean-up team was Al Harrington, a beloved member of the Still & Moving community and one of Hawaii’s inspiring entertainment stars. During the following year, through Ho‘ōla Nā Pua’s Starfish Mentoring Program, Neelanthi Vadivel, operations manager at Still & Moving, served as a mentor to a victim of trafficking up through the beginning of the pandemic.
Ho‘ōla Nā Pua and Pearl Haven founder Jessica Muñoz dreamt this haven into reality with the eager support of caring volunteers and local organizations. From the program’s inception in 2009, Jessica recognized the lack of support in Hawaii for abused minors, and took action to create a support network for these victims. Today, twelve years later, she has created a way to address one the toughest issues in Hawaii, and in society at large. She sees how Pearl Haven, given its unique location, beautiful island environment and Hawaiian culture, can serve as an example for facilities throughout the rest of the country. “We have such an opportunity here in Hawaii for ‘aina-based learning and cultural diversity that we can model and lead the way for the rest of the country,” says Jessica.
The first residents began arriving in June, and Pearl Haven is now on its planned trajectory of accepting 4 additional girls per month. Jessica’s perseverence has helped get them to where they are today. “With the population we work with there’s a lot of struggle. We have to be resilient and tenacious in our efforts as we fight for their needs and advocate for them. What we do is for the long run. Our work is a marathon rather than a sprint to the end,” Jessica explains. The girls tell staff members that this is the first time they have felt safe. They get to enjoy the facility’s Serenity Garden with a firepit where they can roast s’mores some nights, its dormitories, classrooms, activity rooms, and all the amenities needed to keep these at-risk youth safe. They receive therapy sessions, get to catch up with their studies for school, and participate in worthwhile activities. Coming from a diversity of backgrounds, all involving high levels of trauma, the girls are able to come together to form a sense of belonging.
Jessica reflects on a particular moment of feeling victory, standing on the front steps of Pearl Haven in April 2021 after they had finished renovations and held a small blessing ceremony. “I was amazed that at after 12 years of doing this work, and almost 10 million dollars raised, we were finally able – during a pandemic – to help some of the most vulnerable children in Hawaii with this facility,” Jessica recalls. “So many people doubted that such a small organization as ours could tackle such an enormous project. Even now when I go there, I think to myself how stunning the campus now is. To go from a gutted, graffiti-filled shell with squatters to what it is now is jaw-dropping…It’s truly amazing.”
“Having the physical center is a game-changer for providing a continuum of care and a program like this,” says Jessica. In facilities across the U.S. there are fewer than 600 beds for trafficked girls, and the need soars far beyond that number. “We’ll be offering 32 beds in our small state alone.” An estimated 100,000 kids are trafficked each year in the United States alone, and with the pandemic and children’s increasing exposure online, the trend is rising. The cry for help is loud and clear, and change for the better is in the hands of every person.
This year, because of the pandemic, Ho‘ōla Nā Pua was unable to carry out their annual gala, a big fundraising event that helps fuel the heroic efforts that help these young girls. With so many great organizations in need of support, you may especially consider this one next time you are looking to lend a helping hand. https://hnp.givecloud.co/give
“Ho`ōla Nā Pua, meaning ‘New Life for Our Children,’ was founded to shine light onto the dark criminal enterprise of sex trafficking, placing the health of Hawaii’s youth at the center of our mission and vision for our community.” – Ho‘ō la Nā Pua
To read our previous articles about Ho`ōla Nā Pua, Jessica Muños, and Pearl Haven, see here:
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)