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Hānaiaulu, Windward Community College’s Hawaiian immersion childcare center, which is free for qualified students, was a saving grace for Alana Grace, a single mother of four.

Three family members sitting on the couch
Alana Grace with sons Iokepa and Ioane

“If they didn’t have a childcare center, I wouldn’t have come back to school, I would have still been out and I wouldn’t have been able to finish my AA degree,” Grace said.

It took Grace 15 years to earn her associate’s degree in liberal arts in 2021, but Hānaiaulu gave her the boost she needed after the birth of her fourth child Ioane in 2020. Now, she works as an office assistant there, and is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian Indigenous health and healing from the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu in May.

Thanks to being part of a nationwide initiative that led to the 2024 report Data into Action: Fostering College Success for Single Mothers and Parenting Students, single parents at Windward CC have even more support services. The student parent lounge—a safe space for parents to study that welcomes children—opened in 2022.

4 in 5 single mothers below poverty level

According to the 2020 Aloha United Way report, 80% of single female headed households were below the poverty level—highlighting the severity of the problem in Hawaiʻi.

Mother playing with child
Nuʻukia Kama and Tasha Amaral in Hānaiaulu

“We realized that education being the largest vehicle for economic opportunity and mobility in our society that we had to figure out how to serve single mothers,” said Windward CC Chancellor Ardis Eschenberg, who is also a single mother.

That year, Windward Community College was one of eight community colleges nationwide selected through a competitive application process to participate in College Success for Single Mothers. Funded by ECMC Foundation and led by the National College Transition Network, the goal of the three-year project was to identify the needs of single mother students and develop a plan to expand key practices and services to enhance their success.

‘You can’t wait’

…school is possible. Even when you have kids, it might be different, but it’s possible.
—Puanani Kama

As part of College Success for Single Mothers and Parenting Students, Windward CC has developed a student parent dashboard based on survey data and other sources to identify students each semester and provide the support that student parents need to meet their goals, such as scholarships for childcare. And it has added a variety of parenting resources to the campus’ student basic needs website.

“You can’t wait. Every day that we wait is the day that that mother and that child are in poverty—needlessly,” said Eschenberg. “So the whole time we were developing the action plan, we were implementing the action plan. By the time it was done, we pretty much had all of the pieces there and we were formalizing them.”

Hānaiaulu Director Puanani Kama wants prospective students to know free childcare is available for parents who qualify, and Windward CC provides many other services to support them in areas such as financial aid and career development.

Kama said, “I would want them to know that school is possible. Even when you have kids, it might be different, but it’s possible. And if you come to Windward, we make it even easier.”

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