KEKAHA—In 1996, Aaron Hoff, the founder of the Kelea Foundation, experienced an epiphany that altered the course of his life and allowed him to focus on his purpose.
Hoff, who was struggling with drug addiction, knew he could go in only two different directions.
It was on Christmas Eve of 1996, sitting in a hospital bed fighting his demons, he made a pact with himself and chose sobriety.
For the last 24 years, Hoff has adverted the pitfalls of the dreaded disease to create The Keala Foundation.
The Foundation’s mission statement is to create a free and safe place where kids can remain accountable, belong and mentored so they don’t succumb to the trappings of addiction.
Walk it out
This year, Hoff is attempting to do something that he has never done before and walk the whole island, not just to raise money for The Keala Foundation, but to raise awareness of the struggles of mental health, suicide awareness and drug addiction.
Hoff, who will begin his journey at 5 a.m. Friday at Kekaha CrossFit in Kekaha, and end his journey in Hanalei, has a specific goal in mind for his foundation.
His current goal is to raise $100,000 to help financially support his foundation, and currently, he has reached $71,000 on the crowdfunding website www.classy.org.
“I do something every year that is painful, and this year I am going to walk and wrap my arms around the whole island,” Hoff said. “We need to raise attention and awareness to something that is ignored and everyone fights through.”
Mental health struggles have ravaged the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hoff’s primary objective is to raise awareness for people suffering from mental health issues, as well as raise money to continue to expand his organization’s reach in the community.
“The motivation is to keep going, and to bring attention to the suffering the kids go through,” Hoff said. “I just want to push through the pain (of walking) to show them they can push through anything.”
The majority of kids on the island are directly or indirectly affected by family members suffering from mental illness.
“I just want everyone to know that there is hope out there, and give people a glimpse into a battle that is so ignored on the island,” Hoff said. “I want people to know there is a solution, and I have one that has worked for the past 24 years.”
Sarah Braunsdorf, Executive director of the Keala Foundation, said Hoff and the Foundation he started is working militantly on trying to raise awareness to new growing problems kids and the community face.
“There is so much devastation in the community and with the island shutdowns, there is even more devastation,” Braunsdorf said. “People are in a severe emotional battle with depression.”
The man for the job
Braunsdorf said she felt Hoff is the person capable of bringing these issues to light, and that he is determined to do so.
Hoff, who will walk the entire length of the island, plans on walking 36 miles during this journey, and he anticipates will take three days to complete.
“Aaron is the man in the community that can put a finger on the cornerstone of the problem,” Braunsdorf said. “With so many people battling drug addiction, he gives a sense of belonging and understanding.”
Hoff knows by doing this, he will draw the necessary attention to the people that need help the most— the Keiki.
“The most important thing is getting in front of the right people, and we must do this consistently year-round,” Hoff said. “We need to be in all of these kids’ lives for the long haul, and try to grab them before they enter middle school, and even before that. We need to carry them through high school, so they don’t get sucked into the drug culture.”
For more information on how you can donate to the Kelea Foundation you can go to the following website: https://give.classy.org/hoffstage2020
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or email@example.com.