By Terri Ferreira, program manager, Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation

The Kiyuna Family
The Kiyuna Family

Keola and Rena Kiyuna came to the Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation (HICDC) in 2003 after seeing an ad in the paper for an upcoming project. At that time, Rena learned that a co-worker had built her home through HICDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s self-help program, and she was intrigued. The Kiyunas were renting at the time and had been considering homeownership to provide a stable home for their family of three young boys.

The timing for them couldn’t have been more perfect. Upon contacting HICDC they were informed that one of the families had just withdrawn from the upcoming Pacific Paradise Gardens Phase IV project and they were in need of a replacement family. Three months after submitting their application, the Kiyunas along with the other nine families in their group were helping to build each others’ homes and on their way to homeownership. According to Keola, “Everything moved so quickly, we were scared at first but it ended up being the best decision we ever made.”

Keola was a roofer by trade and Rena worked full-time in sales. Right from the start it was noted that Keola was a great asset to the group. He enjoyed building and was a quick learner. He quickly caught the construction supervisor’s eye and immediately became a lead man in the group. Upon completion of the project, HICDC was so impressed with Keola, the organization hired him as an assistant construction supervisor. He worked on the next three self-help projects, which consisted of 34 homes combined.

Keola moved on in 2006 to further pursue his career. According to Keola “The self-help program gave us so much more than a home, it ended up being a confidence builder and a stepping stone to bigger things.” According to Rena, at the end of the project her husband told her he knew what he wanted to do and that was to build homes so she told him “Go do it.” And he did. In 2011 Keola obtained his framing license and started his own construction business, Keola Kiyuna Construction. Keola came full circle and joined the HICDC team again, this time as the construction supervisor. He led his first group of families in building their homes beginning in January 2016. (West Hawaii Today published a feature story, “Sweat and tears,” on Keola’s first build after it was completed in October 2016.)

Rena and program participants.
Rena (right) and other self-help program participants helping to build a neighbor’s home.

Keola and Rena continue to live in their self-help home along with their now five children. Their oldest has graduated and is in his first year of college at Hawaii Community College. Rena says “We have so much appreciation for this program. It was a good thing for our entire family. It taught our children the value of hard work, and what you can achieve when you put in the time and effort.”

USDA Rural Development provided financing for the PPG IV project through its 502 subsidized mortgages and the County of Hawaii’s HOME Investment Partnership Program. Funding for HICDC’s technical assistance was provided through a USDA Rural Development Section 523 Grant.

Note: Reprinted here with permission. Visit RCAC’s self-help program page to learn more about the program and its participants.