Former Huge Island drug seller begins garden care enterprise to assist himself and his workers : Huge Island Now

Former Huge Island drug seller begins garden care enterprise to assist himself and his workers : Huge Island Now

The early morning solar was shining brilliant on the Lanihau Middle in Kona when Sefa Ulu met his work crew of three males for breakfast, as he routinely does earlier than they start mowing lawns, manicuring hedges and doing different yard mainenance.

Ulu, a tall, mild-mannered man, laughed and talked story with the lads. They’re extra than simply his workers. They’re folks he cares deeply about, serving to each take it daily to dwell a lifetime of sobriety.

Their struggles as soon as have been his struggles. Ulu used to abuse substances for years: ingesting, smoking and utilizing cocaine and methamphetamine. In 2014, it caught as much as him. He was arrested for drug offenses that included the intense felony of dealing meth.

At age 32, Ulu was dealing with 35 years in jail.

Former Huge Island drug seller begins garden care enterprise to assist himself and his workers : Huge Island Now
Sefa Ulu, proprietor of We Care Garden Care, pulls useless fronds from a coconut tree at one of many properties he maintains in West Hawai‘i. (Photograph courtesy: Sefa Ulu)

However he bought an enormous break. As a substitute of being behind bars till he was a senior citizen, he served solely 18 months earlier than getting out in 2016, with probation. However that’s not when his struggles ended. He went again to utilizing, offering pretend urine samples for his drug checks. It might take the assist of his probation officer to get him into therapy and a 12-Step program that in the end put him on a optimistic path.

To assist his restoration, Ulu began We Care Garden Care three years in the past to create a “protected” work surroundings for himself. He additionally helps others, hiring solely people who find themselves in restoration, too. They perform as a assist group.


Ulu resides proof for his staff that there’s life after substance abuse and habit. Now, at 40, Ulu now could be a profitable entrepreneur with 30 accounts. In June, he’ll marry his long-time girlfriend in entrance of her household in Missouri. He’s flying his mother and three youngsters to the mainland for the ceremony.

Ulu additionally reveals how serving to others helps in his personal ongoing restoration. He is also actively concerned in sponsoring folks in Drug Courtroom and Narcotics Nameless, and is a daily at assist conferences, offering fellowship and mentorship.

“I actually consider I’ve a present that I might help folks,” Ulu stated. “I put additional time into others. I give them every thing I bought. I’ve a objective at present and I attempt to fulfill that objective.”

Ulu can inform them about his personal battles to cease utilizing medication — about not realizing the right way to get clear made him really feel like he didn’t wish to.

He can inform them concerning the turning level when he confessed to his probation officer about his relapse.


“I don’t know why I confessed, I’d at all times lie,” Ulu stated. “However my physique couldn’t do it anymore. I instructed my probation officer to ship me again to jail.”

Ulu can inform them about how the probation officer didn’t surrender on him, however as a substitute bought him into an outpatient therapy with Care Hawai‘i, a corporation that gives assist with substance abuse and bought him began on a 12-step program.

This system provides these in restoration the instruments wanted to beat addictions and compulsions, and contains going to Narcotics Nameless, Alcoholics Nameless or different assist conferences.

Ulu can inform them how he struggled with employment. Three years in the past he was working at Kona Village for Ali‘i Builders when he determined to begin his personal enterprise.

“My objective is to have a protected surroundings in all of life’s features, and my work is an enormous a part of my life,” Ulu stated. “It’s majority of the day.”


Ulu and his crew meet most mornings. They usually discuss how they’re coping with their particular person recoveries. After breakfast and occasional, he assigns them to shoppers throughout West Hawaiʻi to work on their yards.

Ulu helps his worker’s by offering versatile schedules to work round their particular person therapy applications. If they should go away to take a drug take a look at, that’s by no means an issue. And he has a strict coverage: no ingesting or medication, together with marijuana.

Joey Valenzuela stated his job working at We Care Garden Take care of the previous two years has been key to his restoration. Ulu not solely is his boss, but in addition his sponsor.

“Working with my sponsor in a clear surroundings helps maintain me sober,” the 37-year-old Valenzuela stated. “I like working outdoors. It retains my head not all scattered. It retains me in place.”

Valenzuela was out and in of jail for years for visitors crimes. Each time he was launched, he’d get clear for just a few months after which fall again into substance abuse. In 2020, after getting out of jail once more, his spouse had began her personal drug therapy program and he was engaged on getting right into a program with the Huge Island Substance Abuse Council for 72 days. However two weeks later he was utilizing once more.

“It was unhealthy due to the place we have been residing. I used to be residing with a [meth] seller who at all times had stuff,” Valenzuela stated.

On the evening he relapsed, Valenzuela had simply completed constructing a rock wall for the owner, who had kicked out the seller and different renters. Alone and bored, he went to a good friend’s home.

As they performed darts, his associates began passing round meth. He stated no the primary two occasions it was supplied, however not the third time. The subsequent morning, he went house, broke down and cried. His stepdad known as the therapy heart to push to get Valenzuela into this system.

Valenzuela was linked with Ulu by a member of the family and requested him to be his sponsor. He stated he has been in a position to dwell a clear life now by reducing ties with individuals who do medication and never having an excessive amount of downtime.

Since 2020, Ulu additionally has mentored at the very least 4 folks and supplied at the very least six jobs to folks within the Huge Island Drug Courtroom, coordinator Grayson Hashida stated. The particular courtroom program offers therapy for youth and adults dealing with drug-related prices as a substitute of placing them in jail.

“Sefa is exclusive within the sense he does a few issues,” Hashida stated. “He’s like a private lifeline for folks and he creates a protected work surroundings. These in restoration actually need that degree of assist.”

Hashida stated Ulu appears to tackle a few of Drug Courtroom’s most tough circumstances: individuals who have an extended historical past of homelessness, no household assist within the state or an especially lengthy prison historical past.

“Anybody who wants to talk to him, he’ll choose up the telephone and at all times reply,” Hashida stated.

Ulu at present is sponsoring 26-year-old Lincoln Dinson, a participant in Drug Courtroom and now a part-time worker at We Care Garden Care. He heard Ulu share at a Narcotics Nameless assembly and felt a connection.

Dinson recalled the time he was dealing with the opportunity of getting kicked out of a residential therapy program due to a failed drug take a look at.

He known as Ulu, who reminded him: “Should you don’t choose up, you don’t relapse.”

The recommendation means extra coming from someone who has been in footwear. Dinson stated: “He’s an enormous position mannequin in my life. He’s an sincere, hardworking man who’s keen to assist once I want it.”

Ulu stated the garden care work isn’t tough: “Most of it’s simply exhibiting up.”

For some new of their restoration, many issues will be tough and triggering. To be an efficient sponsor, Ulu stated it’s necessary that he will get to know the individual, their historical past and at all times be obtainable once they’re upset, anxious or pissed off.

Workers stick with him till they discover their very own ardour, which seems to be cooking for lots of them, Ulu stated.

He’s proud that his system of restoration has been working, for himself and his workers.

“No one who labored for me for the previous yr has gone out and used,” he stated. “They may’ve had struggles, errors, however I’m extra involved concerning the individual utilizing.”

Simply this month, two of Ulu’s sponsees and former workers, Michael Johnson and Jonah Farmer, graduated from Huge Island Drug Courtroom and have jobs working as cooks at native eating places.

Johnson continues to lean on him as a sponsor.

“He takes the time to look out for folks,” Johnson stated. “After I was doing actually unhealthy, I known as him up. He stated he had religion in me and cherished me.”