LIHU‘E — Members of the board of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kaua‘i Community College officials and families yesterday applauded efforts by 26 Ni‘ihau residents who are striving to improve their lives.
At a ceremony at the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center here, certificates were given to recognize the Ni‘ihau residents who are attempting to secure commercial driver’s licenses from Kaua‘i County.
Obtaining the license will mean the Ni‘ihau residents will be able to drive large commercial trucks and get into higher-paying jobs that will benefit them, their families and the Hawaiian community across the state, officials said.
Moreover, the effort showed that organizations and agencies working for the benefit of Hawaiians can come together for the good of Hawaiians, officials said.
The major program sponsors are OHA, Alu Like, Ho‘ola Lahui Hawai‘i and the KCC Office of Continuing Education and Training (OCET).
Alu Like provided $5,400 in tuition for training, and Ho‘ola Lahui provided the physical examination for students as a requirement for obtaining the special license.
Officials with KCC’s continuing education section coordinated the training, and hired Steve Carvalho to prepare the students for the county test, and to train them to drive large commercial trucks.
OHA provided $5,800 to rent a truck for training at Vidinha Stadium. Carvalho will lead that training.
“Hawaiians are at a juncture,” said Haunani Apoliona, OHA board chair. “This is about the future of Hawaiians. Your part in fulfilling your kuleana (responsibility) is very important,” she told the group.
La France Kapaka Arboleda, an official with the OHA office on Kaua‘i, said securing the licenses will change the lives of these Ni‘ihau residents for the better.
“They will have added employability. The options are out there for school bus drivers, (or) to work with the county,” Arboleda said with a beaming smile after the ceremony.
Alu Like spokeswoman Remi Meints said Ni‘ihau islanders expressed an interest in July in obtaining commercial driver licenses.
Alu Like got involved when representatives heard the Ni‘ihau residents wanted to fill truck-driving jobs on Ni‘ihau offered by Gay & Robinson Inc. and were required by the government to have the special license, Meints said.
Ilei Beniamina, an assistant professor of Hawaiian studies at KCC, approached Alu Like about helping the Ni‘ihau residents, said Meints, a manager of employment and training programs at Alu Like on Kaua‘i.
A decision was made to grant financial assistance that would help all of the students, and to upgrade their job skills, Meints said.
Alu Like covered the costs for the classroom training, driver license tests and driver license fees, Meints said.
Carvalho, a Kaua‘i County supervisor who teaches people how to drive commercial trucks, has led classroom lessons for the 26 students since August, Meints said. Carvalho also is a part-time teacher with the KCC OCET program.
“He was really helpful. He went though the whole curriculum,” Meints said of Carvalho, who attended the ceremony to congratulate his students.
Meints said 13 of the 26 students have already taken the written county test, and if they pass, can obtain the county driver permit.
The other 13 took the test Thursday, and when they pass it and have gotten their driving permits, they can begin learning how to drive big trucks at the Vidinha Stadium parking lot under Carvalho’s supervision.
Carvalho is a county employee, and to avoid conflict with his job, he has taught the students on his days off, Arboleda said.
Once all the students get their driver’s permits, he will begin teaching them how to drive large trucks at Vidinha Stadium on every Saturday for the next six weeks, Arboleda said.
Some OHA board members praised Arboleda, Beniamina, Meints and others for helping to make the program a success.
Arboleda approached OHA for $5,800 in funding for the rental of a truck and the hiring of Carvalho.
Beniamina also approached the KCC OCET program and its director, Barbara Bulatao-Franklin, for help with training programs, and Alu Like and OHA for funding.
Apoliona said she was proud that OHA got involved in a project that will help Hawaiians become more financially independent.
Don Cataluna is the vice chair of the board and Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau representative on the board.
He said working with Arboleda, Beniamina and others, and talking with fellow trustees Oswald Stender and Dante K. Carpenter, a former Big Island mayor, helped get the project off the ground quickly.
Cataluna, a retired official with C. Brewer Co. and a plantation manager in Hawai‘i, said he trained truck and trailer drivers when he worked for plantations. In his mind, the best drivers were “those that have the Hawaiian blood,” Cataluna said.
“When they shift those gears, no more grind gears,” Cataluna said in a light-hearted moment and drawing a light applause.
Carpenter, who was a plantation production superintendent and a 25-year veteran with C. Brewer, echoed Cataluna’s sentiments, saying the best men for the truck driving and heavy equipment operations “were the Hawaiians,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter urged the Ni‘ihau residents wanting to get into that type of work not “to be afraid to learn new things.”
He jokingly said the men will have to stay on their toes, or otherwise, wahines will very likely hone their skills and take their jobs.
Stender praised people like Arboleda, Beniamina and others for pulling together a program aimed at improving the lives of Hawaiians.
“We (OHA) are very proud to be part of this program,” he said.
Helping to pass out the certificates at the OHA meeting were KCC Chancellor Peggy Cha, Beniamina and KCC official Bulatao-Franklin.
Staff Writer Lester Chang may be reached at email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 225).