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Meet nine islanders who are changing the face of philanthropy in Hawaii.
Hawaii has a very long and (literally) noble history of philanthropy—starting with the alii trusts, and including well-known family, corporate and individual foundations. That proud legacy continues today, even as philanthropy expands from the province of the ultra-wealthy to the more numerous hands of today’s philanthropists—people in our community who are investing substantial portions of their time, expertise and money to causes close to their hearts. “An increasing number of donors,” according to consultant Robin Johnson, “are less interested in growing their endowments and more interested in putting their charitable dollars to work.” Here are a few of the many passionate philanthropists in our midst.
Photo by Rae Huo
By his own description, Andrew Aoki was an “at-risk” kid, but not in the way you might think. Instead, comfortably middle-class Aoki says he was “at-risk of having no life, no self-awareness,” both of which he currently has in spades. No longer oblivious to the many little fortunes that enabled his success, “I am the fulfillment of the hopes and hard work of many others who chose to pay it forward.”
Aoki’s “ah-ha” came gradually, influenced by his first job at the Nuuanu YMCA. He went on to co-found College Connections Hawaii, an educational charity; Three Point Consulting, specializing in public service support; and now Kanu Hawaii, a social networking Web site. More than money, Kanu members pledge to make changes in their own lives that benefit Hawaii, with impressive results, at www.kanuhawaii.org.
Along the way, Aoki earned degrees from Stanford, University of Michigan Law School and Harvard’s JFK School of Government … though you wouldn’t know it from Kanu’s Web site, where his list of credentials is replaced by his list of commitments to Hawaii, including: “I will spend time in a neighborhood that’s not mine; I will buy local produce.”
The only thing at-risk these days, considering Andrew Aoki, is the assumption that philanthropists have to be old or rich.
The Greek Orthodox Ladies’ Philoptochos Society, Aloha Chapter
Every Thursday morning, a group of women assembles in the industrial-size kitchen of Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church and spends the day fighting cancer, homelessness, domestic abuse—in their aprons. For the past 20 years, the “Baklava Ladies” have been chopping, mixing and baking hundreds of trays of Greek sweets like baklava, galaboureko, kourambiethes, melomakarona and koulourakia—enough to be able to donate more than $20,000 a year to charities in Hawaii. That’s a lot of phyllo dough.
Photo by Rae Huo
The Ladies have been long-time donors to the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children transportation fund, which gives airline coupons to kids with cancer who need to travel to Oahu from the Neighbor Islands. Since medical insurance doesn’t cover travel, the coupons allow parents to accompany their sick children, who would otherwise have to fly alone, or forego treatments entirely. The philanthropic bakers are part of a 30,000-member organization whose name “Philoptochos” is Greek for “Friends of the Poor.” The Aloha Chapter also supports the Institute for Human Services, the Battered Women’s Shelter and the River of Life Mission. After baking that much baklava, chapter president Charmaine Leonides admits that she no longer eats any.
Photo by Rae Huo
As soon as he could hold a six-pack in each hand, little Dustin Shindo was expected to stock shelves for his family’s Pepsi distribution business on the Big Island. It’s a work ethic he still maintains, only now the word “stock” refers to NASDAQ, where his tech firm, Hoku Scientific Inc. began trading in 2005. The way this modest Hilo boy sees the success of the materials science company that he runs with childhood friend Karl Taft is, “The harder I work, the luckier I become.” That hard work involves traveling 400,000 miles a year and balancing the entrepreneurship of a Silicon Valley fuel cell startup with the humility of a family-owned business. Taking his turn cleaning the bathrooms at Hoku is one way the 34-year-old chairman and CEO demonstrates his humility; giving generously to local initiatives is another.
Hoku Scientific donated a significant gift of stock to the UH Foundation and to the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii before the Initial Public Offering, allowing the foundations to allocate the funds to a range of causes, including Family Promise of Hawaii, Hula Preservation Society and a robotics competition in Hilo. Shindo is currently laying the groundwork for the Hoku Scholar Foundation. For this entrepreneur, giving with a purpose is what really fuels his cells.