Alumni Profile: Benjamin Kanohokula Jr., B.S.W. ’08

April 6, 2011

Native Hawaiian Benjamin Kanohokula is nicknamed the “energizer bunny” because of his enthusiastic, productive and positive attitude – whether he’s reaching out to the homeless, facilitating classes and staff training, presenting at conferences or volunteering his time.

UAA alum Ben Kanohokula and family at Top Forty Under Forty

Ben and his family celebrate his 2011 “Top Forty Under 40″

For the past 12 years, Ben has been in the business of saving lives ravaged by the destruction of addiction and homelessness. A former meth addict, he knows first-hand the struggles that addicts are faced with. Ben is living proof that there is life after meth.

“I faced many challenges in life and struggled with the grip of drug addiction for many years,” Ben said. “I have been involved in the recovery community for 20 years in pursuing a life of recovery from my own methamphetamine addiction.”

Ben chose a career in social work because he wanted to help others who struggle with addiction. “I wanted to give back to the community that helped me change my lifestyle,” he said.

Before coming to Alaska, Ben earned two associate degrees from Honolulu Community College. It was in 2002 that Ben and his family decided to move to Alaska, after learning that the state supported many social services programs.

Though he already had two associate degrees in hand, Ben had a higher goal to reach. He wanted to become the first member of his family to obtain a four-year college degree. “I wanted to continue to reinforce my creditability, because the social service field became stricter in whom it allowed to work within social services agencies.”

While attending UAA, Ben was a Social Work honors member from 2006-08, and received a Martin Luther King Student Appreciation award for his AmeriCorp volunteer service work in 2007. Ben was also nominated as a Man of Excellence by the University of Alaska in 2008.

Ben earned his Bachelor of Social Work degree, with cum laude honors, and associate degree in Human Services in December 2008. Throughout his college journey, Ben’s family couldn’t have been more encouraging. His 10 children and four grandchildren are a major source of strength for Ben. “I got a lot of support from my family, especially my wife, Shanlyn, whom I’ve been married to for the last 17 years.”

Ben has a strong place in his heart for the social work program at UAA, and he values the professors he studied with during his time on campus. As an alumnus, Ben stays connected with UAA by serving as a mentor to current and future social work students.

“I was a field instructor for the first time this year, supervising a B.S.W. student by assisting him in his professional growth,” said Ben. “I also was able to participate in a social work roundtable event last month to help answer future social work students’ questions about the field. Whenever I meet a fellow UAA social work graduate, I feel an immediate bond with them, as I know they too received a quality education at UAA.”

Ben is currently the outreach coordinator for RurAL CAP’s Homeward Bound program. His job is to help the chronic homeless population obtain and maintain permanent housing, and to provide coaching and mentoring to students and volunteers.

A state-certified Chemical Dependency Counselor II and certified instructor for the Crisis Prevention Institute, Ben presents at several anti-meth conferences, training seminars and forums, where he shares his personal experiences with meth addiction and recovery to encourage others that there is life after meth.

He has been described as a “natural” on the streets and has an exemplary ability to build trusting relationships with the homeless population–a population that does not trust easily. He works collaboratively with community agencies, resulting in several homeless participants receiving housing vouchers, permanent housing, social security benefits, mental health grants, employment and other achievements.

For his contributions to the field of behavioral health, Ben was honored with the prestigious 2010 Ernie Turner Award at the State of Alaska’s Annual School on Addictions and Behavioral Health Conference in May 2010. He is also the recipient of a 2011 Alaska Journal of Commerce “Top Forty Under 40″ award.

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