Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cheeseburgers in paradise

Left to right: Rep. Rida Cabanilla, Rep. John Mizuno, HPD Officer Erick Tanuvasa, Cheryl Walter, Yughette Lashay Baker, Tisha Woytenko

When Yughette Lashay Baker went missing in Texas last summer, her mother Cheryl Walter contacted the Houston police department to file a missing persons report. Yughette, who suffers from mental illness and requires medication found herself in Hawaii. She is unable to remember how she got here.

Honolulu Police Officer Erick Tanuvasa read the missing persons report on Yughette and recognized her as one of the homeless people he sees on his beat in Honolulu. He approached Yughette, but she was uncooperative at first. Officer Tanuvasa noticed that she liked to hang around McDonalds, so he would buy her cheeseburgers in order to win her trust.

The cheeseburgers worked. Soon, Yughette started talking with Officer Tanuvasa, and he became convinced that she was the woman from Texas. He called Cheryl Walter. Cheryl sent her picture to Honolulu, but it took months for Yughette to recognize her own mother. Optimistic that it was her, Cheryl scraped all the money she had and flew to Honolulu to be with her daughter.

Cheryl found Tisha Woytenko via the internet. Tisha heads the volunteer organization "Help the Hawaii Homeless", and Tisha helped Cheryl once she got to Honolulu. Together with Officer Tanuvasa's help, they located Yughette and the mother and daughter were reunited. Cheryl was able to get her back on medication, and health professionals confirmed that they saw Yughette as far back as last August but hadn't seen her since.

Tisha contacted Rep. John Mizuno and they enlisted help from Hawaii media to publicize Cheryl's need to raise money for a return ticket for Yughette. Within a couple of hours, an anonymous donor came forward with an airline ticket to Houston and paid the change fees for Cheryl.

Today, Rep. Mizuno presented certificates of appreciation to Officer Tanuvasa, Tisha Woytenko and Cheryl Walter for their humanitarian service and for helping the homeless, one person at a time. It is still unknown how Yughette ended up in Hawaii to begin with.

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