Hawaii MVP: Dr. Kim Cook
KALAELOA, Hawaii - From serving overseas to sleeping on the streets - a reality for hundreds of military veterans here in Hawaii. One of the people helping them into homes is U.S. Vets Barbers Point Executive Director, Dr. Kim Cook.
As the daughter of an Army veteran, Cook's dream of giving back to our country's heroes started at a young age. "Just in 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," Cook said of her dad.
As executive director, it's 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," said Miguel Gonzalez, a U.S. Vets Advisory Council Member who nominated Cook for KITV's Hawaii MVP. "She comes in every day to help veterans who sometimes feel that the world has turned its back to them."
Cook and her team at U.S. Vets in Barbers Point seek out homeless veterans on Oahu, give them hope, 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. Cook explained, "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."
Her dedication, charisma and endless words of encouragement are what changed Russell Dela Cruz's life. A Marine from Maui, Dela Cruz came home from war and ended up in prison. "When I came home, everyone said something was wrong," Dela Cruz said of when he came home from serving overseas. "And I knew something was wrong also, ya know?"
Dela Cruz said he stumbled upon a U.S. Vets brochure in prison and found hope again. Nowadays, Dela Cruz feels like his old self again; he 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," Dela Cruz said of how U.S. Vets helped turn his life around.
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," said Army veteran Sterling Beair. "And they showed me that I was worth something. And through it all, I gained back something that I had lost, which was honor."
Cook added, "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."
Outreach efforts and success stories have earned Cook the title of U.S. Vets Executive Director of the Year, and now, KITV's Hawaii MVP. Surrounded by colleagues and the veterans she serves, a surprised Cook said, "You do this work not to get accolades, it's because you have a passion. But I appreciate it."
"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," said Gonzalez.