As whipping winds and impenetrable black smoke engulfed Jessica Pratt's Lahaina home and neighborhood on August 8th, she hurriedly loaded her keiki and pets into her neighbor’s Toyota Tacoma. Pratt’s mom was also top of mind as she made numerous attempts to call her during the frantic evacuation. With downed phone and power lines everywhere, those attempts failed time and again. Then suddenly, the call went through in what Pratt describes as the bleakest 15 seconds of her life.
“My mom was at work and didn’t know what was happening, so I said ‘Mom, I don’t know what’s going on, but I love you’,” was all Pratt managed to utter before the call dropped.
That night, thousands of Lahaina residents lost their loved ones and homes. In the aftermath, Kamehameha Schools stepped forward to aid those affected. Through the creation of the KS I Mua Maui Fund and generous donations from the extended KS ʻohana, Pratt and others have access to financial resources and community supports as they work to rebuild and recover.
"Recognizing the immediate and continued impact the wildfires have had on our haumāna and ʻohana, our goals for this fund were to provide direct financial assistance to kākoʻo their needs,” Dr. Scott Parker, the poʻo kula of Kamehameha Schools Maui, said.
“We realize that basic needs like food and clothing, as well as internet access, laptops, and transportation, all impact haumāna learning.”
Pratt's ʻohana has roots in Lahaina six generations deep. Her grandfather worked on the old plantation when he met her grandmother, who was a hotel worker. She says they are one of the “original Lahaina families,” where everyone knows each other's names.
Her connection to the Valley Isle remained strong even after she left to attend KS Kapālama, where she was a boarder until her 2004 graduation. After meeting her husband at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and getting pregnant with their daughter, she knew she wanted to move back home to Lahaina.
Her grandparents, set on retiring in Hāna, passed their Lahaina home on to Pratt as her family and career at Hawaiian Airlines blossomed. Many of Pratt's longtime friends still lived in the area and they raised their children together, trading ʻono food with neighbors and creating memories at their special surf spots. She felt right at home in her close-knit Lahaina community.
Nancy and Marion Cosma, Pratt's grandparents, passed their Lahaina home down to her in 2013.
“We love hard in Lahaina,” Pratt said. “People extend a warmth and unconditional love that’s hard to put into words.”
The devastation of losing not just her home but her entire community was unimaginable.
For Pratt, the most immediate challenge was losing the important documents she needed to go back to work. It took three months to reapply and receive the necessary credentials but the I Mua Maui Fund brought hope for a fresh start. She says the monies will enable them to purchase a new laptop for work and school. Having worked out a temporary living arrangement with her mother, they would also be able to pay for their daily expenses again.
“Not a penny is or will be wasted,” Pratt said. “It all goes to supporting our transition from having lost everything to getting us over this next hump in our lives.”
By relying on her faith, Pratt keeps a strong face for her children. She believes that her keiki will be more resilient if she is too. They recently returned to their favorite beach in Lahaina; their eldest, Ilihia, beaming with delight until the sun set. Despite the circumstances, Pratt was thankful for that precious moment. She knew their faith in God would keep them united.
The Pratt ʻohana said goodbye to their generational home after the Lahaina fires.
After benefitting from the fund, Pratt and her family celebrated Founder's Day with her son, Kanawai, who attends KS Maui. Careful to not let her children see, tears welled up in her eyes as she watched her kindergartner perform. She was overwhelmed with gratitude for the resources Ke Aliʻi Bernice Pauahi Bishop has provided throughout her life.
“Now that I am older and my son is there, I have a deeper appreciation for all that Pauahi has done – her generosity and philanthropy,” Pratt said.
As she recalled the initial email regarding the I Mua Maui Fund, she couldn't believe that almost two decades later, Pauahi still had such a profound impact on her.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this community,” Pratt said.
Inspired by Pauahi’s legacy, Pratt's journey epitomizes Lahaina's unyielding spirit. There is a resilience throughout the community that thrives even in the darkest of nights – the triumph of love over adversity.
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