Head Start Dad Kekoa Barcai was named “Father of the Year” for Maui Island and Maui Economic Opportunity the “Parent-Friendly Business Award” winner at the fourth annual Hawai‘i Fatherhood Conference via Zoom on Saturday, June 18.
The awards were presented by the Hawai‘i State Commission on Fatherhood, an advisory panel to state agencies that promotes the important role fathers play in the lives of their children. The conference was held Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19.
Barcai has been a top volunteer at MEO Head Start, serving as Policy Council representative and president of his child’s classroom parental group. The council and classroom organizations are part of Head Start’s framework to engage parents in planning curriculum for their children and providing feedback on ways to improve the preschool environment.
The federally- and county-funded MEO Head Start preschool, which is offered at no cost to income-qualifying families on Maui and Moloka‘i, provides services not only to the child but the family as whole. The program serves about 200 children and their families annually.
“Parents are their child’s first teacher and when a parent shares that understanding, it helps to bridge the home-school connection,” said MEO Early Childhood Services Director Debbi Amaral. “Not only do we see the growth in the children we serve but in the parents and families as well.”
Barcai’s path to award-winning Dad has had challenges since being released from jail and regaining custody of children Journey Barcai, 9; Honesty, 7; and Legacy, 4. He is currently employed as a carpenter.
“Kekoa has been an absolute pleasure to work with over the past few years,” said MEO Head Start’s nomination. “He has been an excellent role model for his children. . . . He has grown as a father and a leader of our Head Start community.”
Barcai was “ecstatic,” honored and humble about the award, saying “I feel like there are so many other people and Fathers that deserve this, and I’m really not the only one.”
When asked about the essential traits of being a good father, he replied “just being present in their lives . . . in everything you do with them, even when you just gotta smack a cockroach because they all screaming.”
Being a good father means “letting them know that you’re not gonna go anywhere and will always be there for them, letting them know they can come to you for anything and that Dad is going to always be there for them,” he continued.
He hopes that when his children are grown they will describe him as “hard worker, loving, caring, that I did everything I could for them so that they could have everything they need, whatever they need.”
MEO’s Head Start also was honored at the Hawai‘i Fatherhood Conference with the “Parent-Friendly Business Award.”
“We would like to thank the Hawai‘i Fatherhood Conference for presenting the Parent-Friendly Business Award to MEO’s Head Start,” said MEO CEO Debbie Cabebe. “Our program is parent-friendly and parent-supportive, helping them to build nurturing families and thriving children – our foundation and our future.”
For more information about MEO Head Start, call (808) 249-2988.
Honesty, (from left) 7; Legacy, 4; and Journey, 9; pose for a photo with their Dad and Father of the Year Kekoa Barcai at the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center.
*About Maui Economic Opportunity*
Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc., is a nonprofit agency that’s part of the national Community Action Partnership network, whose goal is to help low income individuals and families and disenfranchised people help themselves and transform their lives. Chartered in 1965, MEO offers more than 40 programs that assist low income people, kupuna, youths, persons with disabilities, immigrants and other disenfranchised individuals countywide. MEO runs the Human Services specialized transportation program for health and dialysis appointments, after-school and youth sports activities and more; and the Maui Bus paratransit system; Head Start preschools and Kahi Kamali‘i Infant Care Center; as well as programs that offer kupuna socialization and information; rent, mortgage and utility assistance; Spanish interpretation and translation; entrepreneurial and financial classes and support, including microloans; inmate reintegration into the community after release; youth drinking, drug, smoking, bullying and suicide prevention; and employment training and placement. For more information about the entire array of programs, visit meoinc.org or call (808) 249-2990.