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A special support group creates a special ‘safe haven’ for children with special needs

Hoapili holds monthly activities for children with special needs.

The HUB was decorated with colorful decorations on May 16 for a party specifically for children with special needs. Mothers said the event sponsored by Hoapili is the first party many of their children with special needs had ever been invited to.

For the past six months, the creators of Hoapili, Jeremy and Terra Daniel, have been holding parties for children with special needs and their parents. Terra Daniel said Hoapili provides a platform for children to have fun while also providing a break for parents to socialize with others who understand their situation.

“The Hoapili parties create a safe, all-inclusive place for families to come together. Kids leave feeling happy and parents leave knowing they are not alone. The feeling in the air is nothing short of magic,” Terra Daniel said.

Terra Daniel said she spent years watching her neurotypical kids going to parties and hanging out with friends, but it was rare that her daughter, Briar, like most kids with special needs, ever received an invite to a party, late night or play date. She said after feeling heartbroken for their daughter, she and her husband decided to take action and be the change they wished to see in the world.

“All children deserve the opportunity to be invited and included in a group where they can be themselves without any judgment,” Terra Daniel said.

The group’s mascot is a pineapple which symbolizes “welcome,” according to Terra Daniel. She said Hoapili means “best friend” in Hawaiian and represents a vision where children with special needs can feel accepted, loved and carefree.

According to Barbara Hong, a BYU–Hawaii professor of special education, “Diversity means being different,” so we should celebrate our differences.

Jerusha Magalei, a special education coordinator from Kahuku High School, said, “Everyone has disabilities. We all have things we can’t do too.”

Magalei added her son looks forward to hanging out with his peers each month at these meetings. She shared it is vital that children with special needs learn social strategies by being in groups where they can be themselves and interact with others.

Finding common ground

When asked how others can reach out to individuals with disabilities, Terra Daniel said, “I understand that it can be scary at first. Stepping out of your comfort zone is always a risk. But once we spend a little time talking with individuals with special needs, we can find that we have more common ground than we may have ever realized. Even a simple smile and hello means more to these kids than you may know.

“Our daughter reminds us of what true compassionate, unconditional love looks like. No matter how others may treat her, she still sees them and treats them like her best friend. She has taught me more about what really matters in life than I could ever teach her.”

Having a wholesome relationship with individuals with special needs can also relate to the gospel, shared Magalei. She said when we are not focusing on what divides us, we are ministering to others.

“We love [individuals with special needs] because they are our beloved brothers and sisters.”

She added not all the parents who come to Hoapili are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so it is an opportunity to do missionary work.

Hong mentioned there is a connection between BYUH and the community. She said going to school here is not only for academics due to David O. McKay’s vision, which emphasizes BYUH’s role in serving the community.

“We can always find the opportunity to serve. We don’t have to wait to build a spirit of unity in the future or at other places. We can all do it now.”

Lack of support

According to Rama, there are few local resources to support the families who have children with special needs. Rama said her family is planning to move to Utah because they have better access to doctors and therapists.

Jeremy and Terra Daniel said they cover all the expenses for the monthly parties. They have received a few donations over the past few months, including an ongoing monthly donation from Aubrey and Tim at Penny's Malasada's.

She said their group is working towards becoming a non-profit organization so they can reach out to sponsors in order to keep these parties going. According to the Daniels, there are not any other organizations on the North Shore for families with children who have special needs.

Daniel shared some of the disabilities that are represented at Hoapili:

-Pediatric stroke survivor

-Traumatic brain injury

-Sickle beta thalassemia

-Moya Moya




-Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder


-Down Syndrome




-Intellectual Delay


Mother’s perspective

Jackie Rama, a mother of three, said that Hoapili enables her to network with other parents who have similar stories and situations. She said her role as a mother can sometimes be difficult and exhausting. However, talking to someone who truly understands what she is going through makes her feel supported and uplifted.

She said it was powerful knowing her daughter feels safe and is willing to share with the other children at the party some of her medical experiences.

Student’s perspective

 Zully Davila, a senior from Peru studying art education, said she learned the importance of being kind to others because you never know what they have been through. She added, after the meeting, “It is also fun to be in part of their world. The true smiles from their faces make me happy too.”

Another student, Hannah Wallace, a senior from Arizona majoring in elementary education, said, “This party created an atmosphere where everyone feels included and invited.”

If you are interested in helping the group or being a part of it, contact Terra Daniel at

Writer: Taffie Kwok