Maui Schools Open Arms in Aftermath of Tragedy

December 7, 2023
Kahului Baptist Preschool

By Josh Worden 

With fires ravaging Maui in August, families scrambled for safety. The losses were massive in both lives and property. 

For Christian schools on the island, there was reason to mourn the suffering of their students, but also an opportunity to serve. 

“Since the start of the fires, our team at school immediately began to consider how we could excel at educating and caring for our families in the midst of the horrific tragedy,” said Jimmy Fitt, K-8 Principal at Doris Todd Christian Academy. 

ACSI has been in contact with four member schools on Maui that have already been aiding students affected by the fires. Through the Disaster Reconstruction Fund, donors have generously given $30,000 to support the schools in their service to the students and families around them. 

Kahului Baptist Preschool, for example, had 23 students impacted by the fires. 

“Some actually drove through the fire and lost everything — some lost jobs, some lost family,” said Melanie Nishita, the preschool’s director. 

Four of those 23 students were not enrolled at Kahului prior to their displacement, which is another focus for the schools: welcoming new students who need just as much assistance and education as the ones already attending their school. 

Fitt noted one student whose family lost their home in Lahaina right as she was about to begin her freshman year. Her family moved to an area close to Doris Todd Christian Academy, which has welcomed her in. 

“Her family is not affiliated with a Christian background, but we are excited to provide her with a 100 percent free scholarship to our school,” Fitt shared. “The annual cost for a high school student at our school is $9,155, and our hope is to secure funding to support her education for the entirety of her high school years.” 

Ka’ahumanu Hou Christian Schools is offering financial assistance to 10 students who were displaced by the fire, while also taking in six new students in its aftermath. The impact of providing education in a time of loss is huge, but so is the financial burden of paying for tuition, school supplies, clothing, field trips, and more. 

“[ACSI’s] assistance and consideration are vital to the success of these displaced students,” Ka’ahumanu Hou Christian Preschool & Elementary Principal Joni Uemura said. “Thank you so much for your consideration and generosity. We are thankful to able to provide that bridge of education and some sense of peace for those families affected by the fire.” 

The schools have found that their impact on students’ lives can go further now than it has perhaps ever before.  

“As we minister to the children, we are also ministering to families,” Nishita said. “Taking care of their children and removing some of their financial stress have opened up so many doors. People have responded in several ways with the fire. Some have blamed God, some are seeing their need for God, and then some are praising God.” 

At Doris Todd Christian Academy, the students themselves have played an active role in giving back. The high school students wrote cards to first responders to thank them for their bravery, and the school is considering taking high schoolers on field trips to the distribution centers to provide help with ongoing needs.  

"We figured out that making many, many cards has become therapy for our students and special for the community,” Fitt shared. “This has taught the students compassion and how to care for and love people during their darkest times. Our students’ efforts have brought comfort and encouragement to many wildfire victims.”  

The school has also purchased more than $2,600 in gift cards for families in need and will dedicate its annual food drive to support victims who lost their homes. 

Hawaiian schools are not alone in the effort to donate supplies. In early November, students of all grades at Alta Loma Christian School in California gathered 300 backpacks with supplies, weighing 1,500 pounds. 

For students of a much younger age, like at Kahului Baptist Preschool, the main goal is to provide structure and education at a time when it is needed most. 

“We are honored God chose us to care for these children,” Nishita said. “Our goal here is to provide a place where they feel safe, loved, nurtured, and Jesus being poured into them every day. It is so important for them to have structure, consistency, and the familiar routine that allows them to be growing and to just be a kid.” 

To support Christian schools impacted by disasters, such as those on Maui, please consider making a one-time or recurring donation to the ACSI Disaster Reconstruction Fund today. Your contribution allows us to respond to urgent needs and provide direct assistance to affected communities. Give now!