HONOLULU - Getting mental health care to those who need it most: That's the mission of Honolulu-based nonprofit I Ola Lahui, that uses cultural practices to help underserved communities, with a focus on Native Hawaiians and people living in rural towns.  

At least half the week, 67-year-old Rose Nishihara meets her friends for some exercise. Over the last six years, she's improved her health. She ticks off a list of wins: "Weight, high blood pressure, and diabetes, but it's controlled now."

She's part of a wellness program at I Ola Lahui, which is free for seniors and their caregivers. Nishihara is both. "[I'm] caring for my family; my husband who has shingles and diabetes. That's a lot of challenge for myself."

I Ola Lahui says the classes give seniors exercise and social connection. Executive director Dr. Aukahi Austin Seabury says, "Movement and meaningful engagement in fun activities is critical to preserving their long term health functioning."

I Ola Lahui does more than that. It teaches people how to live with chronic diseases, like diabetes, to reduce people's stress. "Living healthy with diabetes is a really complicated thing to do. It's difficult to monitor your blood sugar and maintain a healthy diet," Dr. Austin Seabury gives as an example.

Dr. Austin Seabury says they offer cultural classes, like hula, because people respond better. "Engaging in cultural practices is a really important path to health," she explains, adding that i Ola Lahui participated in a recent University of Hawaii at Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine study that validated how hula not only improved the heart-health of participants, but it motivated clients to continue dancing long after the clinical trial ended.

I Ola Lahui offers programs not just here in Honolulu but also around the state. Currently, I Ola Lahui provides behavioral health services to communities on O'ahu, Hawai'i Island, Moloka'i, and Lana'i. "We do everything we can to encourage folks to take their health into their own hands," she says.

As Rose Nishihara says she learned in her time here, "If you take care of your health, that's your wealth."

I Ola Lahui says it's working to create a statewide community rich in well-being.

For more information, go to www.iolalahui.org, Facebook: I Ola Lahui, or phone (808) 525-6255.