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Documentary highlights a growing population of young caregivers, including one Hawaiʻi family

Ploof Family Sky Blossom elderly care
Vino Wong/Sky Blossom Films
Sky Blossom Films
Jenna Ploof, 22, refills prescriptions for her dad, Bill at their home in Howell, Michigan.

A new documentary film, "Sky Blossom," shares the stories of five young people across America taking care of older family members with disabilities. Many veterans paid a high price for their service — and their children and grandchildren have stepped up to provide care.

Kaleo sky blossom poster
Sky Blossom Films
Kaleo Kapanui, 18, of Waimea on Kauaʻi on a poster for "Sky Blossom"

"An estimated 20 million American children aged 5-18 are touched by family caregiving. Of them, nearly half a million care for a veteran," the film's news release said. "Though their work often goes unseen, the emotional support, assistance with daily routines/chores, or financial contributions that they provide are invaluable to their loved ones."

Ilihia Gionson, who is on an upcoming panel interview connected to the documentary, shared his experience taking care of his father Anthony — a Vietnam veteran.

"I was 19 when my mother passed, she was his primary caretaker. So I got that responsibility, as well as the stuff that came up because now those experiences had been unpacked," Gionson said. "Certainly my 20s were an adventure trying to balance, you know, school and social life. It was certainly that responsibility to care for my dad, as well as my brother who had an intellectual disability."

One of the five families featured in the documentary is the Kapanui family from Kauaʻi.

Kamaile Kapanui, 26, put her education dreams on pause to look after her 80-year-old grandfather Bobby Nawai. He's a Korean War veteran with Alzheimer's. Her younger brother, 18-year-old Kaleo Kapanui, also cut back on college courses to help take care of Nawai.

"Sky Blossom," by journalist Richard Lui, makes its local broadcast debut on PBS on Thursday, Veterans Day, at 8:30 p.m. There's a webinar with AARP Hawaiʻi on Wednesday about resources available to families. Gionson is on the panel along with PBS Hawaiʻi’s Ron Mizutani.

Watch the trailer below or click here.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Nov. 10, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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