Abundant Spirits

Meet nine Islanders who are making life in Hawaii better for those who most need the help.

Big donors used to write big checks to charities from behind big mahogany desks. Not so the individuals profiled here. These local philanthropists are hands-on, passionate givers—who may or may not have their own resources but who are nonetheless resourceful—raising funds by leveraging their skills and their relationships.

Today’s philanthropists often take on smaller projects, where the impact of their contributions can be felt and success can be measured. Technology is making it easier for people of all ages and means to feel a connection to problems around the world and want to do something about them … often, starting in their own backyard.

Hawaii is a leader in charitable giving, and not just from those with the highest levels of income or personal wealth. When you consider that caring for one another and a sense of our interconnectedness are important underpinnings of the aloha spirit, you can view the generosity found in these Islands as part of a long cultural tradition.

Even at a time when strained finances are causing Islanders to be frugal, the spirit of giving is abundant.

 


Photo: Olivier Koning

Vince Hill

The Kapiolani Children’s Miracle Network

After retiring from a career in the Army, Vince Hill started selling hot dogs outside the Hawaii Kai Costco in 1993, where he made loads of friends over the years. So many, that when he moved inside—first as a cashier and now as a marketing rep—Hill brought with him a community of customers.

No wonder he turned to them to help raise funds for an important cause—the Kapiolani Children’s Miracle Network. Vince implored everyone he encountered to help sick kids, and he was not aiming for the typical $1 donations, either. Once he shared the impact a $100 donation could make, lots of folks stepped up to help the 61-year-old grandfather personally raise $53,000 last year.

Never one to shy away from asking, Hill successfully appealed to Costco’s CEO during a warehouse visit and a senior vice president from the Los Angeles region sent in $1,000 after hearing Hill’s heartfelt request.

Starting with the 3-foot balloons he gives to $100-plus donors, Hill is a man who thinks big. In addition to organizing Costco’s “Miracle Month of May Concert Series,” he also created a “Miracle Tasting.” In 2010, Hill wants to raise $100,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network, and those who know him, know he will.
 


Photo: Olivier Koning

Dr. Keola Lloyd

Hawaii Food & Wine Paradise

Before launching the inaugural “Hawaii Food & Wine Paradise” in 2008, Keola Lloyd did his homework. First, he spent years organizing the Taste of Kapolei (now run by the Rotary Club of Kapolei). Second, he visited the Pebble Beach Food and Wine gala, which annually attracts 2,000 upscale epicureans. To his surprise, many of the attendees at the California event had no idea whether a portion of the proceeds would be donated to charity, or to which one.

But for Hilo-born Lloyd, giving back to the community was a key element in creating the national “Hawaii Food and Wine Paradise,” which raised $150,000 for local causes in the event’s first year. Lloyd reached beyond our shores to secure the sponsorship of American Express Publishing Corp. He then invited both home-grown and visiting chefs, winemakers and entertainers and lured an affluent crowd with ads in Travel + Leisure.

This year’s four-day extravaganza (held in May) included golf with favorite chefs, a multicourse banquet under the stars and presentations on wine pairings. The humble 48-year-old Lloyd managed to keep his eye on the smallest details, while never losing sight of the bigger picture: namely, scholarships for Leeward students and support for culinary programs in our state.

 

 


Photo: Olivier Koning

Judy Lind

Kukui Children’s Foundation

When funding from the City and County allowed the Kukui Children’s Foundation to purchase a building on the edge of Chinatown, Judy Lind knew that her vision for a one-stop-shop serving Hawaii’s most vulnerable kids was a step closer to reality. Many years and many donations later, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Kukui Center opened in January 2009. 

For executive director Lind, just as thrilling as the grants and monetary donations (and, just as necessary) were the smaller in-kind gifts from businesses and individuals who were moved to contribute once they learned about the center’s mission and saw a specific way to help. “I tapped into a universal desire of people to help in a doable way … even those who wouldn’t ordinarily be in a position to donate,” enthuses Lind. Over $250,000 in donated services and materials—ranging from plumbing and roofing to yard work and artwork—proved her right.

With the heart of a social worker and drive of an entrepreneur, this is not the first time Lind’s persistence and dedication have paid off: More than 20 years ago, with the help of the Legislature and the Rotary Club of Honolulu, she founded the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Hawaii in 1986. It’s hard for Judy Lind to say “no” to Hawaii’s kids, and it’s just as hard to say “no” to Judy Lind.
 


Photo: Olivier Koning

 

Annie Yonashiro

Kapiolani Health Foundation Pediatrics Fund

If you don’t want to get involved in a good cause, you’d better not run across Annie Yonashiro, because the 54-year-old hair stylist, tennis player, marathoner and mother of two is likely to recruit you with her enthusiasm. The way Yonashiro sees it, “People want to get involved but don’t know how.”

Her spirited philanthropy dates back to 1972, when one of her classmates from Hilo High School was diagnosed with leukemia. With the help of friends, Yonashiro put together a cookbook to help defray medical expenses. Two cookbooks and lots of fundraisers later, she has raised “tons of money and never enough” for the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry and received a national award for her efforts.

Like her assorted activities, Yonashiro’s causes are multiple. When a friend from her tennis team delivered a baby born 15 weeks prematurely, Yonashiro stepped in to help care for him at Kapiolani Medical Center. When the baby died 13 months later, Yonashiro donated proceeds from her cookbook, Annie’s Favorite Favorites/Island-Style Cooking, to the Kapiolani Health Foundation Pediatrics Fund in his memory.

She’s uncertain about her next project—except that there will be one—and sure that she can count on her wide circle of friends, family, customers and complete strangers to help when she is called upon … and calls on them.
 


Mililani grade eight social studies and service learning teachers Clavelina Caalim, Teresa Duran, Carolyn Ozaki, shown with vice principal Greg Nakasone.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Mililani Middle School

Hoomalu O Na Kamalii

“There’s no turning back now,” says teacher Clav Caalim in describing the atmosphere of altruism at Mililani Middle School. What started as a community service project, organized by teachers after Hurricane Katrina, has evolved into a fully integrated service-learning curriculum that lets students choose where they can make a real difference in the community.

Six hundred eighth-grade students made a $12,000 difference last year for foster kids who need a place to go when they’ve been removed from their parents. The bedroom they sponsored at Hoomalu O Na Kamalii came from pledges for the school’s annual walk-a-thon. “It made me feel good,” said 13-year-old Alexa Dowdell, who walked seven miles, and who, along with many other students, feel just like Michaela Kubo: “I’ve begun to see other problems right around me that need to be fixed.”

Whether it’s cleaning up graffiti on nearby buildings, or improving the nutrition of cafeteria food, students are taking on their causes and educating their classmates with PowerPoint presentations. Younger grades are also getting into the act, sending care packages to areas of the world they are studying. Much like the colds and rumors that commonly spread through middle schools, the spirit of philanthropy in Mililani is contagious.

 

 


Photo: Nina Lee

 

Lois Reiswig

Hui Hoaloha

After working for decades with IBM in Austin, Texas, Lois Reiswig moved to Maui with her husband, who wanted to golf year-round. She warned him, “If I don’t find a community there, I’m moving back.” Ten years later, Reiswig is fully engaged in one that she actually helped to create.

She started off by joining causes that she cared about—including the Maui Arts & Culture Center and Hawaii Community Foundation’s Leadership Council—and subsequently found a way for others to do the same. “Learn about Maui and give back to the community … and you’ll love this island like I do,” says the exuberant 63-year-old. Every month for the past seven years, Reiswig has organized a Hui Hoaloha lunch that brings together women from different parts of Maui to meet one another and hear about various nonprofit organizations from their directors. The lively gathering of 50 or more attendees includes not only new residents and part-timers, but locals, too. For Reiswig, the road map is clear: “Find a nonprofit that supports your passion and get involved.”
 


Photo: Kirk Lee Aeder

Frank Sayre and Laura Mallery-Sayre

Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation

On the day before  he was to return to college on the Mainland, 25-year-old Danny Sayre hiked to the back of Pololu Valley near Kapaloa Falls to visit the place he called his cathedral on the Big Island. Tragically, that visit turned out to be Danny’s last.

His devastated parents, Frank Sayre and Laura Mallery-Sayre, could only stand by helplessly as multiple attempts to rescue their son from a 500-foot fall to the valley floor failed and the mission was aborted. “That’s when three men volunteered to move forward with the mission—knowing that they were putting their own lives in danger,” recalls Laura. The rescue was in such a narrow and densely bushed gorge that tree limbs were shredded by the helicopter as two firefighters dropped into the canyon to retrieve Daniel’s body, only yards away from a 1,000-foot waterfall.

“We decided that a memorial fund honoring the Hawaii County Fire Department was the best way to show our gratitude,” said Frank. Twelve years later, the couple has organized annual award ceremonies for heroes like the men who showed them such bravery and compassion, and the community has stepped up with donations of over $500,000 for greatly needed rescue equipment, including longer ropes. In memory of one life lost, others have been saved. 
 


Mike Wood and his wife, Joanne, at a receiving home in Maili for foster children.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Mike Wood

Foster Family Programs of Hawaii

Though his business—Hawaii Self Storage—is all about keeping stuff, his philanthropic bent is all about giving it away. “It’s not about how much money you make,” says Mike Wood, “it’s about how much you can do with your money.”

A great deal, in the case of 69-year-old Wood, starting with a $1 million donation to help build a receiving home in Maili for foster children that opened in April. But it doesn’t stop at that amount and it doesn’t stop at writing a check. Along with countless hours as a volunteer for Foster Family Programs of Hawaii, Wood is donating another $8.2 million to assist in the operating costs of Hoomalu O Na Kamalii over the next 20 years.

Wood’s hands-on style of philanthropy extends to his employees, whom he encourages to volunteer, and to his customers, who can designate a charity to which the company will contribute. Needy customers can apply for any one of a number of programs—ranging from scholarships for high school seniors to free storage for folks who’ve been laid off or foreclosed (“Transition Assistance Program”) to books for first graders (“Lockers 4 Literacy”). More abundant than all of the stuff in all of his lockers is Wood’s storehouse of goodwill.       
 

 

Jana Wolff is a well-known writer, and an unknown ghostwriter, based in Honolulu. Her last piece for the magazine was “Second Acts.”