Three Children, No Home, No Direction-Until Hawaii Job Corps

Three Children, No Home, No Direction-Until Hawaii Job Corps

Hawaii Job Corps Kanela with her family
Hawaii Job Corps – Kanela with her family

At the age of 19, Kanela Kamahalohanuilai found herself as a homeless single mother of three living on the beach. She was reliving and repeating her family’s homeless cycle. She dropped out of school in the tenth grade and was dependent on government services to feed her family.

Then, a caseworker told her about the Job Corps program and helped her enroll.

The transition into a structured career training program wasn’t easy. Kanela struggled with attendance initially mostly due to the challenges of living on the beach with adverse weather conditions. Staff rallied around her and were able to get her moved into a homeless transition program in the community.

“I remember as a student I never felt that I belonged at Hawaii Job Corps until a staff member told me a few simple words, ‘good morning, my friend.’ As a homeless person who never had a place to call home, or friends to call friends, having someone in a position of a staff member call me their friend was an amazing feeling. It made me feel that I did belong at Hawaii Job Corps. From then, I started to grow at Job Corps, making Job Corps my home,” said Kanela.

Hawaii Job Corps Kanela at Graduation
Hawaii Job Corps – Kanela at Graduation

She completed her high school diploma, obtained her drivers license, and completed the automotive program. She learned to become a leader and was elected vice president of the student government association and represented the center during a trip to Washington, D.C.

After graduation, Kanela went to work full time in the automotive industry to support her family. Her goal was always to attend college, something no one in her family was ever able to accomplish. She enrolled at Windward Community College while working full time and obtained an associate’s degree in liberal arts.

Hawaii Job Corps Kanela in D.C
Hawaii Job Corps Kanela in D.C with the late Senator Daniel Akaka

Kanela had a strong desire to help others reach their potential, so she decided to major in social work. She proudly graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work in May and has been accepted into the masters of social work program at the University of Hawaii.

Kanela returned to Hawaii Job Corps in July of 2019 when she was hired as a career transition specialist. She works with employers to find employment opportunities for graduates. Her guidance and advice is well received by her students as they know she once walked in their shoes.

Hawaii Job Corps Kanela with co workers
Hawaii Job Corps Kanela with co-workers prior to COVID-19

“Kanela is an excellent advocate for our students! She possesses the rare gift of a patient, calm, and caring spirit that is always on display. This attribute has undoubtedly added to her success in guiding our students to succeed while balancing their individual concerns with the rigors of Hawaii Job Corps.” said Michael Carrel, Hawaii Job Corps deputy director.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hawaii residents were told to shelter in place. It was a big adjustment for everyone. But like most challenges in Kanela’s life, she did what she had to, homeschooling six children (ages 9-12!), teleworking, and completing the final course work for a bachelor’s degree.