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Hawaii's Best 2019

At last! A new childcare center opens at Windward CC

child with infant/toddler specialist playing musicInfant room viewToddler room view
Infant/toddler Specialist Pua‘ena Vierra enjoys a musical teaching moment with Auri-elle, one of the first keiki to be served at Hānaiaulu Childcare Center. Right: The infant room at Windward CC’s new childcare center. Far right: Toddler play spaces include an outdoor playground.

Toddlers clink-clank on musical instruments, open books, and smile eyes-wide as they play in the colorful and spacious toddler room designed expressly for their size and learning potential. The long-awaited dream of a campus childcare center came true at Windward Community College with the blessing and opening of the new Hānaiaulu Childcare Center on August 15, 2019.

“Oh, it’s a good day for Windward!” said Interim Vice Chancellor Charles Sasaki.

The Hawaiian immersion childcare center which Chancellor Ardis Eschenberg, PhD, says is a “vehicle to increase education for Koʻolaupoko and Koʻolauloa for generations to come,” is currently serving three infants and eight toddlers—with potential to expand to 12 infants and 20 toddlers—exclusively for use by Windward Community College students. For now, services are free during the life of a grant that ends next school year. Priority is given to those who are full-time students, Hawaiian language speaking or taking classes in Hawaiian language, Pell Grant eligible, and are in good standing in their academic history.

“Our goal is to help our students persist in school and graduate, as well as provide quality care for our infants and toddlers ages six months through 36 months,” said Puanani Kama, childcare center director.

“If a mother earns her degree, her children are all more likely to earn their degrees, which in turn means that the next generation is more likely, and on and on. Maternal education is the largest predictor of higher education attainment for an individual,” said Eschenberg, adding, “This project addresses a gap both in the Windward community, where infant and toddler care facilities are scarce, and at Windward Community College, where we were the only community college in Hawai‘i lacking a childcare center.”

Designed by KYA Design Group, the Hānaiaulu Childcare Center includes a childcare main area (1,450 square feet), welcome area/lānai (530 square-feet), lānai area (330 square feet), and an outdoor play area (970 square feet). The center is equipped with Hawaiian language learning materials, books, music, and comfortable furniture and fixtures sized for infant and toddler keiki, and is licensed with the Department of Human Services.

The UHCC Office of Facilities and Environmental Health was instrumental in putting this project together under the leadership of Denise Yoshimori-Yamamoto, director, and Ray Teramae, architect/project manager. General Contractor S&M Sakamoto, Inc. built the facility.

Thanks to student-led action, a substantial U.S. Department of Education Title III grant award, additional funding from Kamehameha Schools, and support from Windward legislators Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, and Reps. Lisa Kitagawa and Scot Matayoshi, the childcare center was built, furnished, and staffed. Not a simple feat.

Baby Steps Taken, Community Supports

In 2014, Windward CC in partnership with American Association of University Women (AAUW) Honolulu Branch received a small Campus Action Project grant to assess the needs of Windward CC students relative to childcare, and to create a resource list of childcare facilities and options available on the Windward side.

Students at that time, particularly those in the first Harold K.L. Castle Foundation Paipai o Ko‘olau scholars cohort created and administered a survey and developed a resource inventory with guidance from Sue Wurtzburg and Joanna Amberger from AAUW, and Ardis Eschenberg, PhD, then vice chancellor for academic affairs.

The students completed the survey and resource inventory underscoring a huge demand for infant and toddler care with few infant/toddler resources available. Most were cost prohibitive, based on student financial aid awards with the average cost for infant/toddler childcare well over $1,000 per month.

Those responsible for these early planning efforts include Student Parent Group members Michelle Kam, Francine Vierra, Crystal Kamahalohanuilai, Sheila Sarsuela, Natajah Kekawa-Maynes, Joel Harding, Tanti Septiani, Lehua You, Nolan Brown, Tevi Tolentino, Kekai Edayan and Kehaulani Pelekai. 

Using this information, the students and Eschenberg developed an action plan, forming the basis for a U.S. Department of Education Title III Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions grant project to renovate and create a Hawaiian language medium infant/toddler childcare facility on campus.

The childcare facility, named Hānaiaulu, which means “to feed, or adopt and grow,” finished construction in Spring 2019. Additional funds from Kamehameha Schools Community Investing Program allowed this program to be professionally staffed. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education C-CAMPIS (Childcare Access Means Parents in School) funds have provided for student workers.

Ke Kumu Pali, the Hawaiian advisory board of Windward CC, provided funds for furniture for the facility as the renovation grant could not fund furniture. Ke Kumu Pali and Hānaiulu Childcare Center Director Puanani Kama held bake sales at Windward Ho‘olaule‘a and a luau fundraiser to fully furnish the facility.

The Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club also recognized the needs of their community and advocated for support of this project. Representative Scot Matayoshi introduced a bill into the legislature to provide for the childcare director position in perpetuity. Representative Lisa Kitagawa and Senator Jarrett Keohokalole further supported this bill, which was signed into legislation this summer.

“The Hānaiaulu Childcare Center is the birth of dreams of generations of students, faculty, and staff at Windward CC. Our larger Koʻolau community has made this resource come to fruition, allowing parents and children to thrive at Windward. It not only provides a foundation of Hawaiian language for our youngest community members, but sets them on a college-going trajectory to build knowledge and waiwai (wealth, assets) in our community. The largest determinant of a child’s likelihood to receive a college degree is the attainment of this degree by their parents. Thus, Hānaiaulu is a force for intergenerational and community wide change,” said Eschenberg.

For more information about the new Hānaiaulu Childcare Center or for an application, please contact Puanani Kama, childcare center director, at 808-462-4799 or