Born and raised in Honolulu, Summerlyn Nahinu, 36, left her husband in 2014 to escape domestic violence, ending their 18-year relationship, which included 10 years of marriage. She had no home, no job and six children to care for, ranging in age from 2 to 15.
It took a couple of years, but in 2016 Summerlyn found sanctuary at Kukui Gardens, an EAH Housing community near downtown Honolulu. “People need to know Kukui Gardens is a great place to live,” said Summerlyn. “They provide safety. And coming from my situation, safety is definitely a key to where I want to live, hopefully for years to come.”
Before finding Kukui Gardens, Summerlyn and her children spent about two years in temporary housing, first at the local “90-day shelter” and later in Waimanalo, on Oahu’s windward coast.
Proud of her 65 percent native Hawaiian heritage, Summerlyn recently enrolled two of her three teenagers at the prestigious Kamehameha School, endowed more than a century ago to educate children of Hawaiian ancestry. It was founded by the great granddaughter of Kamehameha I, who in 1810, united all the Hawaiian islands under one rule.
Summerlyn is also proud of the new life she has put together for herself and her children. “I went from having nothing, nothing besides the clothes on my back, to being in a four-bedroom two-bath unit with the six most important people to me on the planet,” she said. “You can take the worst situation and turn it into something beautiful, into something positive.”
Her new life also required landing a job. She sent out more than 80 job applications, on Oahu and even to neighbor islands. In early 2015, the Honolulu Police Department hired her to be a clerk typist. There she also received training on fingerprint identification. Two years later, she moved to a job as a fingerprint identification technician with the state of Hawaii.
Summerlyn also dreams of one day going back to college to become a nurse. “I love working with people,” she said. “I can talk to all kinds of people, from a homeless person to a company CEO.”
She’s also found listening important, especially to those going through similar struggles.
“I did counseling, I did groups, I did community service, anything I felt I needed to help me understand the process I was going through,” said Summerlyn. “There are so many women, and men, going through similar situations. Being able to learn from their mistakes and be inspired by their stories of overcoming obstacles gave me hope. So I knew I could do it too.”
She’s also been inspired by her new home. “EAH Housing has been so supportive and such a blessing for my family and I,” said Summerlyn. “The office staff is super professional, but at the same time, welcoming. It’s almost like family-run housing.”