In June 2018, we were pleased to announce that Katie Bennett, JD, MSW, joined our Board of Directors. Katie is a family mediator with a practice in Hawaii focused on settlement and child-focused legal work. She has nearly two decades of experience in education, social work, child advocacy and family law. In her current role, Bennett works to settle disputes in the areas of divorce, paternity, guardianship, adoption and child welfare. In addition to her private practice, she regularly mediates for the State of Hawaii Family Court of the First Circuit’s Oahu Child Welfare Mediation Program at the Ronald T.Y. Moon Judiciary Complex in Kapolei. She has held numerous board, community and volunteer positions within child welfare and legal organizations in Hawaii.
How were you introduced to Hale Kipa?
In my professional roles as a social worker and lawyer representing youth in foster care, I have worked closely with Hale Kipa clients and staff for many years. I have been fortunate to see the positive work the organization has accomplished for at-risk youth and their families in Hawaii. Years ago, I had the opportunity to volunteer on a weekly basis, providing free legal advice to young people visiting the Youth Outreach (YO!) drop-in center in Waikiki, which Hale Kipa has operated since 1989 in partnership with Waikiki Health. Alika Campbell, the Program Coordinator for YO!, has been with Hale Kipa since 1997. I continue to be inspired by Alika’s commitment and steadfast, edgy, honest work to engage our most vulnerable young people.
What got you interested in serving on the board?
It’s an honor for me to serve on the Hale Kipa board. Most of the at-risk youth we assist as an organization have experienced significant trauma, which can have devastating impacts on what is a deeply underserved community. We must put energy and resources toward organizations like Hale Kipa if we want Hawaii communities to continue to thrive; this organization is so important to making Hawaii a better place to live now and for future generations.
How has your professional background helped in your role on the board?
My first job out of law school was working at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii representing kids in foster care as a guardian ad litem. Now I run my own mediation and child-focused legal services practice, and I serve as a mediator for the Family Court – Oahu Child Welfare Mediation Program. Child welfare is at the center of what I do, and that’s really what Hale Kipa is all about. These at-risk youth, as tough as they can seem, are still children. If they don’t have a family to support them, it can be difficult to see a clear path to success. As a guardian ad litem, I was able to provide some support where none existed. Part of that has been recommending participation in Hale Kipa programs, such as Imua Kākou, which provides continuing resources for young adults who exit foster care at age 18.
What sets Hale Kipa apart from other organizations?
Hale Kipa CEO Punky Pletan-Cross is an inspirational leader who strives to bring a variety of voices to the table, whether it be partner agencies, front-line case workers (the real heroes of the organization), or others in our community with valuable insights on improving our programs and services. It truly feels like servant leadership. Hale Kipa also does an incredible job at adding value to everything it does, through partnerships, smart operations, and strong collaborative relationships with charitable foundations, partner agencies and communities. Although the organization has multiple programs, it has stayed focused on the population it serves, which shows great integrity and commitment over nearly five decades.
What are the greatest opportunities for Hale Kipa?
The next year will be huge with the construction of the new Hale Kipa campus in West Oahu, which will provide a central place, in addition to other community-based locations, to better support operations and client services. In addition, as board members, we should be leveraging our connections to best support and promote Hale Kipa’s breadth of programs. We are fortunate to have a strong and diverse board, and each of us brings something different to the table. I would like to see us continue to build lasting partnerships to best service at-risk youth and their families here in Hawaii.