HAWAII MVP: Kim Cook
From serving overseas, to sleeping on the streets, a reality for hundreds of military veterans in Hawaii. One of the people helping them is the Executive Director of the U.S. Vets program, a local girl and "Army Brat" whose dreams of giving back to our country's heroes started at young age.
From serving overseas, to sleeping on the streets, a reality for hundreds of military veterans in Hawaii.
One of the people helping them is the Executive Director of the U.S. Vets program, a local girl and "Army Brat" whose dreams of giving back to our country's heroes started at young age.
"Just growing up with him and seeing the different struggles that veterans have. For me, it was sort of a personal mission of mine to be able to serve this population," Kim Cook, U.S. Veterans, Barbers Point Executive Director said.
As Executive Director of U.S. Vets in Barbers Point, it's Kim Cook's mission to help veterans see the world in a new way.
Whether it's talking story or laughing over a game of chess, she makes time to sit down and connect with the ones who need it need most.
"She is an unsung hero, she does so much for our community... She comes in every day to help veterans who sometimes feel that the world has turned its back to them," Miguel Gonzalez, who nominated Cook for KITV's Hawaii MVP said.
Cook and her team at U.S. Vets seek out homeless veterans on Oahu and gives them hope: permanent housing and an opportunity at a second chance.
With hundreds of veterans living on the streets, it's a mighty task that takes passion and persistence.
"Our statistics show it takes approximately seven engagements before a veteran is willing and able to come into a program. So we have to be persistent and dedicated to the cause," Cook said.
Her dedication, charisma and endless words of encouragement are what changed Marine Veteran Russell Dela Cruz's life.
"When I came home, everyone said something was wrong, and I knew something was wrong also, ya know?" Dela Cruz said.
A Marine from Maui - Dela Cruz came home from war and ended up in prison. He stumbled upon a U.S. Vets brochure and found hope again.
"She's stern, she tell me all the time, you can't mess up, ya know," Dela Cruz said.
Nowadays, he feels like his old self again, has his own place, a job at the VA and new found confidence to continue on the right path.
"She changed my life, folks, let me tell you. U.S. Vets, Dr. Cook has shaped the man that I am today and that's no joke, that's no joke," Dela Cruz said.
By expanding programs and increasing services, Cook and her team have helped countless veterans transition from feeling helpless to feeling whole again.
"Even when I didn't love myself, Kim, the program, they loved me until I could love myself. And they showed me that I was worth something. And through it all, I gained back something that I had lost, which was honor," Sterling Beair, Army Veteran said.
"Sometimes it's just about instilling hope back into their lives. What we found is a lot of veterans have lost that along the way," Cook said.
Outreach efforts and success stories like those have earned Cook the title of U.S. Vets Executive Director of the year and now KITV's Hawaii MVP.
Shocked, surrounded by her colleagues and draped in lei, Cook is modest about her accomplishments but says she's humbled by the surprise.
"You do this work not to get accolades, it's because you have a passion. But I appreciate it," Cook said.
"She has come from being a local girl to being Dr. Cook, to being so respected and revered within the community that I think it's a well deserved title you guys are giving her," Gonzalez said.
"You can tell when someone is doing it for the work and when someone is doing it from their heart. They maintain that genuineness. That's just who she is, that's the person that she is. It's a beautiful thing. And as veterans, we're thankful," Beair said.