WAIMEA — Kekoa Bonachita said May 20 can’t come fast enough because he’s getting ready to graduate and head off to the Air Force.
But the Waimea High School senior has found a productive way to fill the time — and his credit requirements — until diploma day.
For the past few months he and eight other students from Waimea High School have been learning the ropes of the hospitality business at Waimea Plantation Cottages through the Ho’okipa Workforce Academy.
“We’re really lucky to come out here and learn for ourselves what adults do every day,” Bonachita said.
The program is the only one on the island, though it is also on Oahu and the Big Island, and is nestled under the state’s division of vocational rehabilitation.
“We usually work with adults, but the state let us sort of expand to go into classrooms, too,” said Alicia Sams, vocational rehabilitation specialist that is working with Waimea High School. “It’s going really well and the kids are really getting to learn.”
The Ho’okipa program focuses on kids who have had challenges with academics or behavioral issues in the past but are capable of learning in their own way and entering the work force.
“Hospitality on the island is one opportunity for students to maybe not have to go back to school and get a degree,” Sams said. “If they do a good job and have the fundamentals of basic work ethic, they can work their way up and be successful.”
Before they’re placed at Waimea Plantation Cottages, Sams said each of the kids selects what type of job they’d like to learn first. The program plays to their individual strengths, but it also requires the kids to cycle through different jobs so they learn the whole industry.
And though some of the students may never enter the hospitality industry after high school, they’re able to learn the basics of holding down a job.
“I’m at the front desk and I really like it,” Bonachita said. “I’ve always been good with people, but I think it’ll help me since I’m going into the Air Force.”
Tim Alex, director of sales and marketing for Waimea Plantation Cottages, said he loves seeing the kids around the grounds behind the desk, working with maintenance, or in housekeeping.
“They’re great kids, the program is really good — it’s making a difference in these kids’ lives,” Alex said.