People 65 and older make up 17 percent of Hawaii’s population. They are more likely to fall victim to costly scams, suffer serious or fatal injuries in accidents, and need help with daily activities.

In Waikiki, some of them are getting that help.

Waikiki Health has attendant care services through its Friendly Neighbors program where volunteers meet with kupuna for a few hours a week to provide companionship and lend a helping hand.

As director of emergency operations and community wellness at Waikiki Health, Liz Makarra heads the Friendly Neighbors program.

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Waikiki residents 60 and older can apply for assistance through the city’s Elderly Affairs Division. They can request help in the form of personal care and companionship. The EAD then processes the application and performs an assessment that includes an in-home visit to decide how a need can best be met.

Waikiki Health’s Friendly Neighbors program pairs kupuna with volunteers who help by running errands, reading mail and providing general companionship, among other simple tasks.

“It’s here to support seniors in their homes and offer them companionship,” said Liz Makarra, director of emergency operations and community wellness at Waikiki Health.

“Working with kupuna is definitely an area that is close to my heart, personally,” Makarra said. “My parents are in their 80s and I have some in-home care organized for them.”

Hundreds of kupuna in the Waikiki area have benefitted from the program, which provides assistance without regard to their financial standing.

30 Years Of Service

Friendly Neighbors began in 1987 when the state started supplying nonprofits with funds to provide more for kupuna care services. Since then the program has expanded to include more than 50 volunteers, with almost 60 kupuna getting state funded assistance every year.

“Many of the seniors are single and some of them aren’t close with their families, so that companionship is really important for their well-being,” Makarra said. “We’re fulfilling actual practical needs as well as needs of the heart.”

Loneliness exacerbates other problems many kupuna face when trying to maintain good health.

According to a 2015 study, one in three seniors is affected by loneliness and 17 percent of people aged 65 years and older are isolated in the United States.

Ronne Partoriza, the elderly services coordinator for the Friendly Neighbors program, said that pairing volunteers with kupuna is no easy task.

“It’s work to match people, I have to assess their hobbies, as well as their likes and dislikes, and match them up based on that information,” Partoriza said. “I try to make it the best fit for them, so (the volunteers) will stay.”

Looking Toward The Future

In 2015, Friendly Neighbors added a homemaker program where paid staff perform light housekeeping duties for seniors using funds provided to Waikiki Health by the state Executive Office on Aging. Partoriza says that she would like to see the program expand to take on more seniors, volunteers and program coordinators.

Volunteers can apply by contacting the program directly, or by responding to online postings. They are asked to make a three-month commitment of two hours per week — though Partoriza says that many volunteers opt to exceed that once they get to know their kupuna.

“I truly believe that this program benefits both kupuna and volunteers,” Partoriza said. “The relationships built are rewarding for everyone involved.”

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