Keeping Kupuna In Good Company

Seeing the need, Christena Southwick organized the Kupuna Visiting Program with Princeville at Hanalei Community Association

Beaming smiles abound at the new Kupuna Visiting Program in Princeville, where seniors gather monthly to enjoy each other’s company and join in fun activities like bingo, with healthy pupu and beverages to snack on.

It’s a much-needed program, as seniors appreciate social opportunities and a safe place where they receive assistance, and support from volunteers including Christena Southwick, who founded the program in coordination with Princeville at Hanalei Community Association (PHCA).

“There was a need I was interested in, and I don’t mind organizing groups,” she says, explaining why she started the program last November. “I am personally very interested in mental health issues for seniors, being able to provide some Band-Aids for depression and loneliness such as this program.”

The committee meets the second Tuesday of each month from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with the next one planned for Tuesday (March 10) at Princeville Community Center. So far, the program has organized “Seniors New Year’s Celebration” and “Kupuna Valentine’s Party.”

Things got started last year when a notice was posted by PHCA in the community regarding the formation of a kupuna committee. At the time, there were no regularly scheduled social events for kupuna in the area.

“There were plenty of volunteers who wanted to help brighten the day of our kupuna, and I was one of them,” says Southwick. “I organized the first volunteer meetings, and that led to the role I play as the group organizer.”

After assembling the team, Southwick came up with the concept to host holiday-themed bingo parties.

“The idea was pure and simple: Get kupuna together on a regular basis for fun, food and friendship,” she says.

The first party was in celebration of Thanksgiving, and this month a “Lucky St. Patty’s Day” party is planned.

“The participants are all having a good time, enjoying the bingo, photo trivia games and food,” says Southwick.

Many seniors like it so much they keep returning, including Leonor da Silva, who joined the group with the encouragement of her daughter-in-law Pam Woolway.

“One of the biggest challenges moving my mother-in-law to Kauai to live with us was integrating her into a community where she felt safe, accepted and supported,” says Woolway.

The only place da Silva was able to socialize previously was at church.

However, after Woolway visited the kupuna club to check it out herself, she knew it was the right fit for da Silva.

“She was so brave and made the trek from Kapaa to Princeville on her own the following month,” says Woolway. “When she came home that day she was so excited to share about the sweet people and how there were nutritious snacks — and all for free. She can hardly wait for the next one. I love that she is experiencing new people in a playful and wholesome setting.”

Helping seniors like da Silva is something Southwick enjoys.

“Giving back to the community has become cliché, but that’s what I feel and that’s my reason for doing this,” she says, “and I think it is with each volunteer on the committee.”

All of the volunteers who participate in the program also are involved in other community-service projects, even though they spend a significant amount of time with the kupuna club, from decorating and preparing food to attending regular committee meetings and putting up fliers around the island.

But, she adds, “Everyone is very cheerful about the giving; everyone has fun.”

And it’s a good thing because seniors are in an age group that tends not to have a lot of social resources on the island.

“And if kupuna don’t have family around, who are they going to share all their wisdom and memories with?” asks Southwick. “Kupuna programs show respect for our elders and give them honor.”

Southwick hopes the program will continue to expand and reach other areas of the island.

“I wish there were more activities being organized for our elders,” agrees Woolway. “Having Leonor expand her circle of friends has had a positive impact on our relationship at home. She returns with stories about her day and seems to have a more positive outlook on life in general.”

Call 826-6687 for more information. Visit princevillecommunity.com for a calendar of Princeville Community Center events. cocomidweek@gmail.com

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