Going to school at Windward Community College before COVID-19 was challenging enough for Lynette Santos. The 57-year-old grandmother of 13 and great grandmother to four had a home bursting at the seams and had already dealt with tragedy in her close-knit ʻohana.

two people wearing masks
Grandson Elton Naki Jr. was in a coma for months after an accident in 2017.

Santos lives in low-income public housing in Kāneʻohe with her husband, daughter Ona Naki and her husband and their two children, and a granddaughter and her two children.

In 2017, during his senior year of high school, Ona’s son Elton Naki Jr. fell out of a truck in Kāneʻohe and ended up in a coma for months, on life support.

Santos enrolled at Windward CC three years ago. After urging every one of her grandchildren to go to college, she decided it was time to do it for herself. She was working on her associate’s degree, with dreams of opening up a Christian store in her Kāneohe community, when the virus hit.

Income loss

Her husband George Santos Jr. lost his job as a custodian at Kalaheo High School on March 17. Lynette Santos went from being on the Windward CC campus much of the day to being at home with her whole extended household. Santos said it forced their family to go from being self-sufficient to asking for help.

Windward CC helped her to sign up for assistance for food, transportation, books and other expenses through a workforce education and training program called HINET, which stands for Hawaiʻi Nutrition Employment and Training. HINET has helped with money for food, but it’s not enough to support the entire extended family. Without George’s income, Santos says they need the help from the UH Foundation’s Urgent Student Relief Fund.

Santos said she copes by asking herself, “What if this is the last day on Earth?” Then tells herself that things are going to get better and that, because her extended family depends upon her, she “can’t fail now.”

Family on the front lines

Naki and two people in covid testing tent
Santos’ daughter Ona Naki, who lives with her, is working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

The faith-filled woman also prays for daughter Ona who is now on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, working with Premier Medical Group, which is doing testing for the virus at multiple public sites every week. “He’s my guidance. He’s my everything,” she says of God.

These days, she tries to keep up with her online classes amidst a house full of people. She entertains the ʻohana, especially the children, by playing bible games and bingo, then goes on to her computer when she can.

She’s worried how their large, loving household will get by with only her social security payments and Ona’s income as a medical assistant. That’s why this proud, independent woman agreed to share her story, in the hopes that others will understand that it is ok to ask for help. “We are in this together as a family, our ʻohana,” Santos said.

—By Kelli Trifonovitch

Santos family photo
Windward CC student Lynette Santos (with pink flower) has 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.