For several generations of kids growing up in the Kalihi-Palama neighborhood, Palama Settlement has served as a sort of safe haven where in addition to learning how to swim or sew, they developed a sense of self-discipline, respect for community role models, and values that kept them on a straight path.
“I credit Palama with keeping me out of gangs,” said Cha Thompson, a Waikiki entertainment icon and co-owner of Tihati Productions, which she has operated with husband Jack Thompson for more than 40 years.
Thompson and Ben Aipa, a legendary surfer and surfboard craftsman, will be honored this month at the second annual Malama Palama Gala as alumni who have continuously supported the agency’s programs for youth and seniors. Established in 1896, the nonprofit, community-based social service agency offers educational, recreational, athletic, cultural, social, health and community-building programs and services.
Wendy Abe, Palama’s executive director, said Thompson and Aipa were selected for recognition because “both grew up in the Kalihi-Palama neighborhood. They both credit Palama with helping them find a path out of poverty and away from the streets and the gangs. Ben says he would likely be in prison now if it wasn’t for Palama.”
Abe added, “Cha and Ben exemplify the value of giving back. They have both served as mentors and hanai parents to numerous kids throughout the years.”
Thompson, who is now in her 60s, said, “My heart is still in Kalihi, and I think it’s because it’s that insatiable need to do and to give. I wonder if it’s because Mama raised eight in a tenement on welfare. I saw what was there and what was needed, and I never walked away from that.”
She continued, “There were a lot of kids that needed help because they came from dysfunctional families. The adults at Palama were very caring. They’d teach you things like manners, personal hygiene and how a boy should act towards a girl. And for the girls, it’s OK if you cannot beef (fight),” she said with a laugh.
At Palama Settlement, Thompson said, she learned how to get along with other kids and forgo using her fists to settle quarrels, even though fistfights were routine among some kids in her Kalihi Valley Homes neighborhood and in the surrounding community.
MALAMA PALAMA GALA
The gala fundraiser for Palama Settlement will feature a semiformal dinner and silent auction. Tihati Productions headliners will provide entertainment.
>> When: 5:30 p.m., Oct. 25
“When I went to Palama, I learned you don’t cut in line — you stand in line and wait your turn. And if you didn’t, you soon found out there were kids from other housing projects who were just as skilled in a beef.”
Among her other Palama memories is her first visit with a dentist.
“I never went to a dentist before, and I remember paying 10 cents to get my teeth drilled (at Palama’s dental clinic), and there was no such thing as numbing. They either drilled it, fixed it or pulled it out,” Thompson said. “But now that I think about it, sitting on so many boards (over the years), making someone pay even 10 cents … teaches you responsibility, and then you take ownership. I have always loved Palama.”
Among others whose young lives were shaped by Palama Settlement are former Gov. Ben Cayetano and Senate President Donna Mercado Kim. Last year’s inaugural gala recognized the late Edward “Skippa” Diaz, a Kalihi boy who became a professional football player and a Farrington High School football coach; and Cecilia Blackfield, who created the recreation center at Palama 25 years ago as well as a scholarship program.
Many of Palama’s alumni, Thompson said, are like a family in that they share “a special bond … and when you go back and talk to each other, you’re talking a different language.”