The new 3,500 square foot home given to Theresa Leimomi Akana and her family by the hit ABC television show â€œExtreme Makeover Home Editionâ€ is built on land purchased just six months ago by the nonprofit agency she founded and now heads.
The home, valued at over $600,000, was built on a portion of a three acre parcel on Kalihi Street bought for $2.7 million by Keiko O Ka Aina Family Learning Center on December 29, 2006. The group used a $2 million grant-in-aid approved by the state legislature earlier last year to make the purchase. With the state funds covering about 75 percent of the purchase price, the group was able to obtain a mortgage from First Hawaiian Bank for the balance.
The Extreme Makeover crew also built a second structure for use by Keiki O Ka Aina as a community recreation center. Both buildings are owned by the nonprofit group, although the Akana family will occupy the residence.
Akana is executive director of the group which provides early education services to Native Hawaiian families and has received over $2 million annually in federal government grants in recent years, according to the groupâ€™s nonprofit tax returns. She is also a member of the nine-member board of directors, as are two other key staff members and two parents who have had children in the programs. The position of board president is currently vacant, according to the groupâ€™s web site.
The television programâ€™s producers pointed to Akanaâ€™s actions more than a decade ago in founding the group when she was a welfare mother, and sustaining it at times using her own food stamps to buy snacks for participating children.
Although Keiki O Ka Aina’s programs have received universal praise, Akana no longer seems to fit the profile of someone desperately in personal need of the assistance of the network and the thousands of local donors and volunteers they were able to mobilize.
Akana, as executive director of Keiko O Ka Aina, was the organizationâ€™s highest paid employee and received $97,018 in direct compensation during the tax year ending September 30, 2005, the latest year publicly available. She also received $1,080 in allowances and $4,851 in other benefits.
Keiki O Ka Aina, which used the upstairs part of Akanaâ€™s former home as office space, also reported that it paid $22,320 in rent to Akana in each of the past two years.
Akana still owns her old home, located nearby. The 4333 square foot lot was assessed for tax purposes for $322,000 in October 2006, while the building was valued at $397,000.
Records filed in the Bureau of Conveyances indicate Akana also took title to a Lahaina time share unit in 2005 along with Keiki O Ka Aina administrator Jack Randall and Maria Randall, who is Akana’s mother.
Akana is now married to Ben Akana, an officer at First Hawaiian Bank.
Akana was not available to comment last week.
Kanoe Naone, community relations and development director for Keiki O Ka Aina, said the nonprofit group saw notices early this year inviting Hawaii residents to apply for a home makeover and hoped it could get assistance repairing buildings on the property it had just purchased.
â€œWe applied as an organization,â€ Naone said. â€œWhat happened was they got back to us and said, â€˜we donâ€™t actually do non-profits, we do families, but we’re interested in the fact that you have affected so many families.â€™â€
ABCâ€™s producers invited the group to submit descriptions of staff members who work at the site.
â€œWe had fifteen staff members who had great stories,â€ Naone said, â€œand ABC picked hers.â€
ABC originally intended to demolish Akanaâ€™s nearby home, but found that wasnâ€™t feasible due to the location of a stream, the proximity of adjacent homes, and the narrow street, Naone said.
â€œI have no idea how they decided to build two structures (both the residence and community center),â€ Naone said. â€œWe did not know what was going to be built or where until they actually started construction.â€
Duane Preble, a retired UH professor who served as president of the Keiki O Ka Aina board until mid-2006, described it as “a unique situation.”
“Her house has been the headquarters for the whole operation for a long time,” Preble said. “She’s had the whole staff in her house with the children underfoot. If there’s a breakfast room in the house, it’s basically also an office.”
Preble predicted that the new house, like Akana’s former home, will end up being used by her agency more than her family.
And Preble credited the exposure produced by the Extreme Makeover project with immediately bringing in several grants from local corporations to extend the Keiki O Ka Aina programs.