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Na Kupuna Makamae Center in Kaka‘ako

In the wake of the Vietnam War, Local nonprofit organization Pacific Gateway Center emerged in 1973 as a resource for immigrants, refugees and low-income residents.

It began initially as a resource to help newcomers especially gain a foothold in unfamiliar surroundings—helping them find lodging and food, and then learning

English and obtaining a job—but has evolved throughout the years to fulfill a variety of needs. With time, for example, many of its earliest beneficiaries soon became seniors. So Pacific Gateway Center rose to the challenge once more.

In September 2016, it opened Na Kupuna Makamae Center in Kaka‘ako, a gathering place of sorts for Hawai‘i’s seniors.

There, classes are offered every Monday-Friday in topics that range from Hawaiian language, tai chi and yoga, to hanafuda, qi gong and sound bath (a meditative course). According to its website, Na Kupuna Makamae Center also offers session in lei making, lauhala weaving, ‘ukulele, hula, mobility training, nutrition, personal care and much more.

A women’s group also meets at the center once monthly.

But that’s not all that’s happening at Na Kupuna Makamae Center.

“It’s a multi-cultural and intergenerational center because we also … [are] helping the senior population to become more conversant in the digital age,” says Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, executive director for both Na Kupuna Makamae Center and Pacific Gateway Center.

Youth have proven instrumental in constructing this unique environment. Students from Punahou School, for example, have lent their time and expertise to teach kupuna how to use iPads, cell phones and other digital devices in what Thein likens to one-onone tutoring.

Mid-Pacific Institute is getting in on the action, too.

Fun fact: The location Na Kupuna Makamae Center has settled into is a more than 100-year-old building that once was the Ala Moana pump station. Of course, the old machinery is long gone and in its place is a main hall where classes take place.

It’s of historical significance, notes Thein, and Mid-Pacific students currently are working on a project that examines the architecture of the facility, which will help with archives.

“There is a certain aura and mana about that building,” she says of the structure located on Ala Moana Boulevard. “When you walk in, you feel it.”

In fact, those attracted to the character of the building—as Thein puts it, there just aren’t many left that show off that kind of stonework and crafts-manship—are even welcome to inquire about renting it. Na Makamae Kupuna Center is available for luncheons, fundraisers and other functions, provided it does not coincide with scheduled classes. (Thein also notes that priority is given to events that are, as she puts it, “mission-related.”)

Na Kupuna Makamae Center already is proving itself to be a valuable resource for the community and Hawai‘i’s seniors. It appears that won’t be changing any time soon, either, especially considering the statistics.

“By the year 2020, 25 percent of Hawai‘i’s population is going to be in the elder population segment,” says Thein.

In the meantime, Pacific Gateway Center is gearing up for a walk/run that will take place in Kaka‘ako sometime in October. Details will be finalized soon, and Thein promises a family-friendly event that will be open to all ages.

Thein has been with the organization for quite some time now, having served as its executive director since 1988. (Thein left for several years to work for the United Nations and USAID before returning to the organization for good in 1997.) Good naturedly, she calls herself a kupuna, too—part of what makes her job so enjoyable, to hear Thein tell it.

“I love working with the seniors because I’m a senior myself and, actually, I’m so jealous that they can take all these classes,” she adds, laughing. “I would love to take all the classes, except I have to work.

“I just enjoy their laughter,” she adds. “The companionship.”