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KS staffers (with lei from left to right: Lei Maile Wengler, Kaliko Mokuahi, Sheri Iha and Erin Cobb-Adams) pose with participants, mentors and Waiʻaleʻale Project employees.

KS Kaiāulu helps transform lives through support for higher education initiative

April 15, 2024

Hiʻilani Cremer uses her personal transformation story to inspire others to turn their lives around through higher education.

“I was on drugs, I was on alcohol, I was homeless four times – all in just eight years and that’s straight out of high school. I was really depressed, had anxiety, and I didn’t want to be around anybody. I didn’t even like myself,” she recalled.

Cremer now serves as a peer mentor in the Waiʻaleʻale Project at Kauaʻi Community College. The program encourages people with minimal or no college experience to attend, and successfully complete, their first year of college. The comprehensive services include financial assistance to cover tuition, books and fees, along with academic supports and supplemental counseling and advising. More than 70% of the students currently enrolled in the project are of Native Hawaiian ancestry.

“When you look at our community and you look into the areas of who’s not attending college, it is our Native Hawaiian community,” explained program coordinator Lahea Salazar. “Our partnership with Kamehameha Schools is such a blessing. It’s invaluable to us as a program.”

The program, which started as a pilot project in 2010, has since grown to include seven additional affiliate programs at all seven University of Hawaiʻi community colleges, a KS Kaiāulu partner. The expanded project is called the 13th Year Initiative.

“This partnership helps Native Hawaiian learners navigate the higher education system, strengthening their capacity for future success,” said Waiʻaleʻale Sarsona, Kamehameha Schools vice president of Hiʻialo. “KS Kaiāulu aims to grow ʻōiwi leaders through education and leadership development. We are pleased to have the 13th Year Initiative as a partner in this effort.”

The 13th Year Initiative, which has served more than 2,900 students through its respective programs, plans to boost enrollment and increase its impact in the coming years.

“In these few years of coming to college, and especially this program, I have grown to have friends, I have grown to step up as a woman, as an adult,” said Cremer. “Even if it’s just one class, you’ve got to come. Just take one step. After you take one step, you’re already in the motion of taking another and another. The goal is to never stop taking your next step.”

Hi’ilani Cremer (left) is now a mentor for The Waiʻaleʻale Project, a program at Kauaʻi Community College for nontraditional students.

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