By Katie Murar  – Reporter, Pacific Business News

Ho’ola Na Pua held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for its long-planned residential campus for underage females who have been sexually exploited.

The Pearl Haven campus is situated on a 12-acre plot of land in a rural community on Oahu, and includes a 20,000-square-foot building that will undergo extensive renovations starting this week.

The nonprofit organization secured a lease from the Department of Land and Natural Resources in 2014 for a nominal dollar amount, according to Co-founder and President Jessica Munoz, and has since been working on licensing and permitting to begin work on the nearly $8 million project.

“Pearl Haven will be a sanctuary for our most vulnerable in our community: our children,” Munoz said. “We are thankful for the community coming together to create the safety net and response services needed for exploited girls. This is about hope, healing and renewal for children and their families.”

Hawaii businesses have stepped in to help with the cost: $1.3 million is being donated by local architecture and engineering companies. AHL, formerly known as Architects Hawaii, took on the renovation project as part of its “1% Pro Bono Program,” an annual program that provides pro bono architectural services to nonprofits. The business said it is approaching $700,000 for the value of services donated.

During the groundbreaking and blessing ceremony, AHL CEO and President Bettina Mehnert said she urged one of AHL’s competitors, Design Partners Incorporated, to join in on the pledge and “not a day later, they said they were in.”

The two architecture firms then put together a team of partners who are also giving pro bono services, including KAI Hawaii Inc., InSynergy Engineering Inc. and Minatoishi Architects.

There is a $2.5 million gap to close Ho’ola Na Pua’s capital campaign, which started in 2016.

Construction is expected to take 15 to 18 months, at which point the campus will become a therapeutic facility that will house about 32 girls, aged between 11 and 18. It is the first of its kind in Hawaii, and will be the largest of its kind in the United States.

AHL’s project manager Mariel Moriwake said Pearl Haven will include features that promote healing, like outdoor recreational activies and gardening, a quiet room, movement studio and learning kitchen. The facility will have a pastel color palette and will incorporate natural, sustainable materials.

“Attention to the specific needs of sex trafficked children is essential. Pearl Haven will be a home that is a balance of safety and comfort,” Moriwake said. “These girls will feel protected with enhanced security measures. They will also have space choices for personalization, retreat, and focused relaxation. Ahupuaa-inspired design elements and colors will create a non-threatening environment that feels calm and respectful.”

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