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Hoʻōla Maui Fund gives Lahaina educator a hand-up

Feb. 20, 2024

Before the August wildfires, Zoe Acantilado KSM’13  loved working the morning drop-off line. As a teacher’s aide at Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina, she cherished being the first person her students encountered.

“It is a joy to greet these children not only by name but being able to converse with them and really build a relationship,” Acantilado gushed.

The fires destroyed Acantilado's beloved morning routine and so much more. Her Lahaina home was, in the immediate aftermath, uninhabitable and most of her workplace, which was also where her sons attended school, was decimated. The disruption to Acantilado’s life was surreal.

“I can’t even picture or tell you a movie that could describe what all we’ve been through,” Acantilado said. 

As her family begins to rebuild their lives, Acantilado finds comfort in remembering the Lahaina of her childhood. She calls herself a “Lahaina girl at heart.” Growing up, her first act of independence was freely riding her bike down Front Street. Her first job was scooping ice cream on that iconic avenue.

In those simpler times, Acantilado remembers Lahaina as a world of its own. Everything her ‘ohana needed was on that two-mile-long stretch. The only times she needed to leave was when she would ride the school bus to ʻAʻapueo as a KS Maui student. While it was enriching to meet other Maui teenagers on campus, she knew she wanted to raise her own family in Lahaina.

“Lahaina as a whole is a community– a real family,” Acantilado said.

That feeling was even more reason to send her keiki to Sacred Hearts School. Only a quick five-minute drive from her home, she saw the school as a true reflection of the tight-knit, caring community she grew up in.

After the fires displaced her family and her sons' school, Acantilado was most concerned with her family’s immediate needs like food, clothing and continuing her children’s education. Her husband’s painting jobs were on hold and she could not return to work until the school found somewhere to relocate.

One glimmer of hope was the Hoʻōla Maui Fund. KS donated monies from that fund to Sacred Hearts School, which then financed tuition for both of her sons and 60 other impacted students and families.

“The Kamehameha Schools’ Hoʻōla Maui generosity came to us at a time when our greatest need was to support our families,” Tiffany Mai, the school’s admissions and development director, said. 

“Finances, housing and employment are the top three reasons our enrollment continues to fluctuate due to circumstances that are beyond our families/community’s control. Our greatest strength was providing relief from financial burdens that overwhelmed our families in the months following the disaster,” Mai explained.

For the Acantilado ‘ohana, the aid provided a lifeline amid chaotic uncertainty. Having schooling costs covered allowed her and her husband to return to work and restore some kind of normalcy to their routine.

Furthermore, the funds revived the sense of community that she treasured. In her words, the fact that so many organizations, volunteers and residents came together to help their students was miraculous.

“As a parent and even as a faculty member, it’s such a blessing and I am so grateful because it’s a lot,” Acantilado said.

Since returning to their temporary campus, the mom of two carries an even greater kuleana. As Sacred Hearts begins to build a new campus in Kāʻanapali by next school year, Acantilado sees more resilience and strength in her students. She hopes that through it all, they – and her children – remember the way many across Hawaiʻi have come together to support Lahaina families.

“I hope they can say that even though all of this happened, a lot of good came out of this, too,” Acantilado said. “There are good people out there... and it’s not to give a handout but to give a hand up.”



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