The Gift Of Hope

Whether it’s serving youths at Hale Kipa or in the Love The Journey program, or serving coffee at the adjacent Plantation Coffee Company, Melinda Montgomery is all about offering education and hope to Kauai youths

Melinda Montgomery has the heart of a social worker and the spirit of an entrepreneur.

She not only is program coordinator for Hale Kipa on Kauai, but she also owns Plantation Coffee Company. Located in the same building in Lihue, they manage to keep Montgomery on her toes.

As head of Hale Kipa, a needs-based children’s advocacy program, she assists and supports at-risk youths, helps them realize their full potential and is an active advocate for their success in becoming productive community members as well as law-abiding citizens.

“I like to give them hope,” she says. “It warms my heart.”

She also likes to keep their bellies full and their pockets lined at Plantation Coffee Company. Those who visit Hale Kipa rarely leave without some kind of tasty delight.

“I love to feed people,” says Montgomery.

Her employees hail from the Hale Kipa program as well as Love the Journey, another social service organization she co-founded that provides assistance to those in need, and for which she serves as chief operation officer.

The California native’s background and life experiences led her to the work she does with at-risk keiki at Hale Kipa. From the time she was 7 years old until she was 17, Montgomery was a foster child in multiple placement programs. She had a knack for running away, and her habits eventually led her to Kauai, to which she ventured in 1971 with only a bicycle and a backpack.

“It was far enough away,” she explains. After “living off the land” for a while, Montgomery worked in the restaurant business on Oahu before heading to Oregon to earn a degree in human services at Marylhurst University.

She returned to Kauai in the 1990s, and worked in various social service capacities, including assisting with grief work on Kauai Hospice Beeper Team (when a sudden death occurred on the island, they would be paged), until she found her way to Hale Kipa in 2004.

The organization began in 1969 as a shelter for runaway youths in Waikiki. Though it had a presence on Kauai, its Hawaii Advocate Program, designed to help keiki and families in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, allowed the nonprofit to go statewide in 2004 “in a big way,” says Montgomery.

Montgomery is a strong proponent of the program’s education assistance.

“It’s the way out of poverty,” she says. “Education gives them hope that there’s a way out of their situation.”

Young people ages 3 to 21, including those in foster care, suspended from school or on probation, may visit Montgomery and her staff at Hale Kipa for help with graduating or obtaining their GED, or using the organization’s services such as personalized tutoring. Some of the Hale Kipa kids never believed they’d graduate from high school, much less be accepted into college, and Montgomery is proud to say that many of them are the first in their families to do so.

“They have hope now,” she says.

Thanks to Hale Kipa, they have the foundation for a better life and a more prosperous career.

Other wrap-around services that cater to each individual’s needs at Hale Kipa include community outreach programs, from case management to intensive in-home therapy.

Some of the keiki are actively sought out by Hale Kipa employees, while others are referred to the program, such as children exiting Kauai Youth Correctional Facility (KYCF).

“A lot of kids who are in there shouldn’t be in there in the first place,” insists Montgomery.

While the number of kids entering KYCF has decreased, it’s still higher than she believes it should be. “Because what we know is, they come out more traumatized,” she explains, adding that most of the kids simply have unresolved trauma that hasn’t been attended to – problems she helps to address at Hale Kipa.

“The earlier you can intervene, the better,” she says.

About 80-85 percent of children who develop delinquent issues stemming from difficult family circumstances outgrow their behavior, about 10-12 percent need intervention and support to eventually overcome their problems, while the other 1-5 percent fall through the cracks.

“A lot of those are our kids at Hale Kipa,” says Montgomery. “We never give up on kids. We’re always there. I’m always going to put the needs of the kids and the needs of the families first.”