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Kapiolani C C graduates
Kapiʻolani CC‘s 2022 graduates included the first cohort to complete the Community Health Worker certificate program while still in high school.

Two dozen newly minted community health workers, catalysts for reaching Hawaiʻi’s underserved communities, were the beneficiaries of a $50,000 grant from the Queen’s Health Care System Native Hawaiian Program. The funds created a Community Health Worker scholarship that was awarded to 24 students in Kapiʻolani Community College’s Community Health Worker (CHW) program.

Those students recently completed the CHW program with their certificate of competence. They received financial support for the 2021 academic year, in circumstances where costs associated with attendance were much more than tuition and fees alone. The funding was used to access technology devices, childcare and secure and adequate housing, which allowed students to focus on learning while inspiring confidence in their course work.

“The Queen’s Health Care System Native Hawaiian Program, Community Health Worker Scholarship at Kapiʻolani Community College has been an important support mechanism for students who desire to improve their own circumstances, those of their families, and their communities,” said Joey Dewater, CHW program coordinator.

The CHW program prepares students to function as patient advocates, linking disadvantaged populations with community healthcare resources. As trusted members of the community and valuable parts of a healthcare or social services team, community health workers provide health education, advocacy, research and leadership to help others take action and to promote healthy communities.

More community health workers wanted

The CHW program was established at Kapiʻolani CC in 2017 but was reinvigorated through a Hawaiʻi State Department of Health-UH Contact Tracing Training Program grant in 2020. Since its inception, a total of 189 students have graduated from the program, more than 30 are currently enrolled, and the program is recruiting for future cohorts.

Dewater said the program supports students statewide with a focus on recruitment from communities that are often underrepresented in health and social services and where there is a strong need for increased intervention. These individuals in underserved communities often have multiple barriers to college and many struggle to receive a good post-secondary education or obtain meaningful careers due to their socioeconomic status.

Preference given to Native Hawaiians

Recognizing the importance of recruitment and training of individuals with relevant language, cultural and community knowledge, the Community Health Worker scholarship gave first preference to students of Native Hawaiian descent, trusted members of Native Hawaiian communities, and individuals whose work will support Native Hawaiian and community health. Of the 24 graduates who received the scholarship, there were eight Native Hawaiian students, nine students with multiple language skills, eight single parents, a formerly incarcerated student and a former Waipahu High School student who started the program in high school.

Nine are working in jobs specifically serving Native Hawaiian communities, and 19 are working with other vulnerable communities through volunteerism or employment in local healthcare services or organizations.

High schoolers complete certificates

The Queen’s Native Hawaiian Health Program gift also allowed the CHW program to offer courses to 18 Waipahu High School students—covering tuition through two semesters. Of those 18 high school students, three students requested a credit transfer to Kapiʻolani CC and were awarded the full 16 college required credits to receive a CHW certificate of competence.

In May 2022, the CHW program’s first cohort to complete the entire certificate program while still in high school graduated at Kapiʻolani CC’s commencement. The program continues to draw the interest of students where English is a second language, first generation college students and many more.

Caption for photo: Kapiʻolani CC‘s 2022 graduates included the first cohort to complete the Community Health Worker certificate program while still in high school.

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