A nonprofit serving Native Hawaiian children and their families through educational and social service initiatives will launch a new savings program in partnership with a bank to help families build financial security using a $2.5 million grant under the federal American Rescue Plan.

Hawaii’s Partners in Development Foundation was among the nearly two dozen beneficiaries of a combined $28.1 million in federal grants under the Native Hawaiian Education Program announced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s office last month.

PIDF said in a news release Thursday it will use its grant to create and manage up to 800 savings accounts for children enrolled in programs it oversees — such as Tutu and Me preschool, Ka Paʻalana Homeless Family Education and Na Pono No Na Ohana Family Education in Waimanalo, in partnership with American Savings Bank. Families involved in early education programs run by the nonprofit INPEACE will also be eligible to enroll.

Together, these programs serve close to 6,500 individuals.

Partners in Development Foundation, Native Hawaiian
Participants in the Na Pono No Na Ohana family education program in Waimanalo, run by Partners in Development Foundation, engage in a cultural activity. Courtesy: Partners in Development Foundation

Families will receive an initial deposit for their accounts and have the opportunity to receive matching funds as they work their way through a series of workshops. These will include sessions focusing on skills such as managing money, building savings, protecting income and assets, paying for child care or preschool or saving for a child’s college education.

The matching funds will be based on a families’ level of participation.

Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, president and CEO of Partners in Development Foundation, said in an interview that the idea behind the initiative, known as Keiki Assets Account or Ka‘a, was to build something that had “more enduring impact” for low-income Native Hawaiian families as they weathered the impacts of the pandemic.

The nonprofit participated in food and supplies distribution to communities in need during the height of the Covid crisis, and also ran an isolation quarantine shelter for the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community, but wanted to leverage these federal dollars to last well into future generations.

That includes offering a toolkit to help families work toward building wealth so they can better prepare for their children’s educations. One of the existing barriers for many families, Kana‘iaupuni said, is a lack of access to information on the basics of financial literacy. The nonprofit hopes to connect participants to the resources they need, including life coaches or mentors, that incorporate culturally responsive concepts.

“What are the root causes of the multi-generational poverty and longstanding educational divides?” Kana‘iaupuni said. “Some families have borne a greater brunt of the pandemic than others, as far as economic hardship, death rates, jobs and mobility and educational disparities and the ability to stay engaged online with their kids.”

The group is planning to offer seed deposit amounts of $200 to $400 for up to 850 children and their caregivers, with the goal of families accumulating $4,000 or more in total savings with full participation over three years.

“It’s not something we’ve ever done before, to infuse the income directly into the hands of people,” Kana‘iaupuni said. “The thinking was, how to be a support system for families in getting this money to them in ways that are aligned with better educational outcomes?”

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