Be the change you hope for
Nonprofit organization Hawaiian Hope / It usually takes someone a little eccentric to run a one-person show. It might even take a little more eccentricity—maybe even a touch of madness—to run a show that is changing society, to “do something that hasn’t been done before.” So said Curtis Kropar, founder of the nonprofit organization Hawaiian Hope, which aims to address the needs of the homeless to the needs of society in a disaster.
“Working with the homeless is like a fire drill,” said Kropar.
And considering the fact that Oahu has roughly 8,000 homeless people out of a population of fewer than 900,000 (1 percent is alarmingly high), that’s a lot of drilling.
Kropar sits at a smoothie bar for an interview, his head constantly darting from side to side, up and down, until finally he says, “I can’t believe it. This place is only about 11 by 17 feet, and yet there are one, two, three, four, five cameras—at least five that we can see.” It’s this kind of ADD-like power of perception that constantly drives Kropar’s thoughts and actions.
Kropar aims to create mobile computer labs and laundry service areas for the homeless’ use out of old tour buses. Pretty inventive and resourceful, right? That’s just the half of it—the facilities are also designed to double as disaster communications and water purification centers. The computer labs would be satellite-dependent, so that even if every source of power on the island is down, users could still communicate with the outside world. For the mobile laundry, Kropar pointed out, “We’re on a planet that’s over 75 percent water. We don’t have a water shortage. We have a technology shortage.” He plans to use reverse osmosis to provide fresh water from salt water for laundry and drinking.
Utilizing a multi-level approach to helping the homeless, Hawaiian Hope also operates on more basic levels, providing data management software for homeless shelters, helping them operate more efficiently—all of which are much needed in the constant state of resource shortages that shelters find themselves. There are also computer classrooms in the shelters, free of charge.
Bringing high-tech access to the homeless satisfies a basic need so simple, it’s hard to think that others could have overlooked it before. Today, an increasing number of jobs, even menial ones, accept online applications only. The same goes for housing applications. Even many elementary school students now are required to e-mail their homework for a significant percentage of their grade. Bringing technology to the homeless is the opposite of a handout—it’s providing a tool that will help people navigate the job and housing markets, as well as educational opportunties, to become independent.
A Hawaiian Hope center with more than enough computers and desks in stock is in the works, though the center needs to put in walls and floors (the organization is still looking for sponsors and donors).
Kropar, who worked in IT for nearly three decades, says his interest in providing this service has to do with his technological interests but also with a past in which he, too, struggled with homelessness.
“I’m a geek,” said Kropar, “I had my own company…[now] I’m gathering my experiences.”
Kropar funded the organization out of his own pocket for the first couple of years, but points out that investment is all about returns. For example, purchasing 25 computers for an initial project on his part eventually encouraged computer donations from others in the hundreds. “Now if that help could turn into money,” Kropar mused.
If you want to donate goods to Hawaiian Hope instead of money, though, Kropar strongly cautions that dirty clothes or broken machinery are more hassle than help. As much as 20 percent of the organization’s received donations are literally garbage. The most valuable thing you can give, he says, is time.
“I’m looking for a couple of superstars—a full-time volunteer coordinator and a site manager, to eventually be on pay roll,” he said.
Kropar’s dream, to open at least six centers across the island, shows that thinking big and hoping for the best can garner great returns—and that believing in a dream is more than a sappy principle, but manifests a better reality for all.