by JoNelle Sood, April 27, 2022

“Yes, I understand that every life must end. As we sit alone, I know someday we must go. Yeah, I’m a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love. Some folks, they got one, others they got none. Stay with me, Let’s just breathe ``,'' Just Breathe by Pearl Jam.

My cousin sang this song at my dad’s funeral in 2018. It was a farewell to him to say “I see you”, “I appreciate you” and “I’ll meet you on the other side!” I listen to this song often as it makes me think of my dad. My dad gave and didn’t take. He gave everything to his family and his friends. I didn’t tell him enough that he was an awesome dad! My parents are my inspiration and really did some amazing things so we could “have”.

I share this story with you to shed light on the Ho'omau Foundation. Ho’omau Foundation focuses on the success and development of Pacific Islanders. We provide scholarships to Pacific Islanders that are active in the Pacific Islander community and who are attending a 2 year or 4-year college. Recipients of the scholarship also are provided a mentor to help with the transition to college and are invited to become part of our professional network.

My dad unexpectedly passed away, and his passing really forced me to do an inventory of my life and how I would like to spend my time on this Earth. It’s what ignited me to start Ho’omau Foundation. Ho’omau Foundation was something in my mind and in my heart for many years, but the drive to set up Ho’omau Foundation formed after my dad passed away.

One of our board members suggested we name our scholarship after my dad. It never occurred to me to do that, but honestly, my dad fueled my inspiration and because of his death it inspired me to find a way to bridge that gap between Pacific Islanders, an underserved group, and white collar professions, where I’ve spent most of my career.

My dad was a force to be reckoned with and those who knew him loved him. He didn’t have a degree, but that didn’t stop him from being a successful entrepreneur. So, I’m not saying you have to have a degree to be successful, but a degree is a tool in your toolbox and speaking from experience, having my degree opened doors for me and helped me build a fruitful network of very knowledgeable and generous professionals. I’m proud of the career I’ve cultivated, and I’d like to make sure many Pacific Islanders like me have these same opportunities.

Why is our mission important to me? First hand experience tells me we need this type of support. My older brother and I are first generation college students. My brother went to college for football, but college wasn’t the traditional path for my family. My parents are hard-working people who started a floral business. It was a risky decision, but my dad was a fantastic artist and he loved talking to people so the two seemed to work together. He worked with customers and if you think about it, he was a full life cycle florist from planning weddings, anniversaries, new baby, mother’s days arrangements to funeral services. New customers often turned into longtime friendships and ohana. Working in the flower shop was my first exposure to customer service and creating space to have empathy for others. The plan was for me to graduate high school and continue to work in the flower shop. Why not? It was a successful business, at the time. My brother–not my parents– told me I should go to college and my parents supported me when I decided college was my next step. I never thought I was a “fit” to go to college. I never saw anyone that looked like me or shared my culture in professions I was exposed to so I didn’t know what I was looking for or looking up to.

As a result, it took me 6 years to get my BA because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was pregnant with my son and it was clear to me that I needed to finish college so I could support my son and show him how important college would be to me, him, us! My story may resonate with some people and it’s common for families not to talk about going to college as college seems to be for doctors, lawyers or dentists. My goal for the nonprofit is to shed light and reduce the barriers at the point of entry toward opportunities in the US–the barriers of how to apply to college, apply for financial aid, apply to scholarships, or that college is POSSIBLE and normalize it. There are so many successful people out there with really cool jobs that require a degree. I want all Pacific Islanders to know we are here to support them, lift them up and help them with their endeavors now and in the future. These college students are inspiring the next generation and showing kids in their communities what’s possible. Let’s talk about it and let’s promote higher education and help #PacificIslandersGoToCollege. We have awarded a total of 13 Kamery Lee Jr scholarships in two short years.

Dad, “Everything you gave and nothing you would take. Did I say that I need you? Did I say that I want you? Oh, if I didn’t, I’m a fool you see, no one knows this more than me….I’ll meet you on the other side”.

Thanks to my dad and his impact on my life, I’m focused on how I want to spend my time on this earth.

Listen to a Podcast with host Maria Grace Wolk, Focus on your “Dash” to Build your Vision featuring JoNelle Sood. Maria Grace was kind enough to “talk story” with JoNelle to learn what motivates her and how Ho’omau Foundation got started.

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