Meet the 2020 Ola Pono Award Winners
Volunteers are a vital part of Hawai‘i’s nonprofits—every year, hundreds of thousands of them donate their time and talents to keep our communities moving forward. For our first Ola Pono Awards, we asked our readers to nominate people who inspire through their compassion and dedication. A husband-wife team, a brother and sister who grew up giving back, and a driving force in the local hospitality and arts scenes are our 2020 honorees.
An ‘Ohana Project
How the Alarcons are bonding as a family through volunteering
From left: Kylie, Noel, Reziel and Caleb Alarcon
In 2008, a devastating car accident left Reziel Alarcon paralyzed with seven bone fractures. At the time of the accident, Alarcon remembers a floating, out-of-body sensation—she believes she died momentarily. Today, she’s alive and well and, to her doctor’s amazement, walking. “I was given a second chance at life,” says Alarcon. “It made me realize—what am I going to do with it?”
Her answer: volunteering. And, she’s made it into a family affair by involving her kids and her husband, Noel. Whether it’s playing music for seniors at Pearl City Nursing Home, cleaning up Ala Moana Beach Park or teaching CPR at Nānākuli High and Intermediate School, 17-year old Kylie and 10-year old Caleb are learning to put others first. They’ve been doing it so long that giving back to the community has become a way of life.
“We often eat out for breakfast or spend the day at the beach after volunteering. During that time, we reflect on how we got to make that one person smile, or I will compliment the kids on how well they spoke to an elderly person. We make it fun,” says Alarcon, who works as a behavioral health specialist for Nānākuli High and Intermediate School. Noel is an automotive technology teacher at Castle High School.
Caleb has volunteered at the Hawaiian Humane Society since he was 8 and says he has fun meeting people and learning social and life skills. “I also love that I’m able to share my love for music while volunteering,” says Caleb, who plays the ‘ukulele.
A senior at ‘Aiea High School, Kylie spent a year creating a fire safety video for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for seventh to 12th graders, which has more than 11,000 views on social media. She’s taught CPR at the Pearl City Public Library and when she won a $250 prize for an essay competition, she donated it to the American Red Cross Hawai‘i Chapter.
“I believe young people should volunteer and give their time to meaningful causes in their community,” says Kylie.
The four volunteer together at the Red Cross, clear weeds at Waimea Valley at least twice a year, and help at Pālolo Chinese Home and The Plaza Assisted Living, among others.
“Volunteering together as a family gave us an opportunity to give back to our community and spend quality time together. It strengthens our family bond while teaching children the value of giving and sharing the spirit,” says Noel.
The Couple That Volunteers Together, Stays Together
How volunteering keeps the flame alive for Priscilla Arelliano and her husband, Kevin
For Priscilla “Cilla” Arelliano, volunteering isn’t just a personal commitment—it’s a couple’s commitment. You’ll find her and her husband, Kevin, regularly donating blood, waving signs at community events and serving food at the Institute for Human Services, sometimes all in one day. (Arelliano admits she’s signed both of them up for something and then forgotten to let Kevin know.) “My husband always supports me. He’ll sometimes drop me off at events and wait several hours for me to finish volunteering so I have a ride home,” Arelliano says. “Our four kids are grown up now so volunteering is our date time. I truly enjoy what I do and it gives me a sense of fulfillment.”
Her inspiration sprang from a difficult time. In 1990, her youngest daughter, Prescious, was diagnosed with a rare heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot, or a hole in the heart. She and her husband joined a nonprofit support group at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children called Kardiac Kids. They attended every month, encouraged by families who had similar experiences. Four years later, the group supported them when they flew up to a San Diego children’s hospital for surgery. “This touch of generosity has given me the motivation to give back,” says Arelliano.
Arelliano is an assistant vice president at Bank of Hawai‘i and has been active in the bank’s volunteer program since 2010. In the past three years, she volunteered a total of 679 hours, working at 67 events in 2018 alone. On the third Sunday of the month, you can usually find her and Kevin working the free Family Sunday event at the Honolulu Museum of Art. “She always has a smile and a friendly greeting for each family that comes through our doors,” says Michelle Dolan, the museum’s volunteer program coordinator.
The couple’s work has made an impact on both of them. They recall a homeless man at the IHS men’s shelter who came in looking especially down, so Kevin took time to talk with him. The next month, the man returned, doing better, and thanked Kevin for the encouraging words. Arelliano says, “It made me feel proud that we could do something.”
For those interested in volunteering, Arelliano recommends choosing something you have a passion for: “In the end, it’s all about giving back,” she says.
An Advocate for the Arts
How Kelly Sanders is driving Hawai‘i’s creative community forward
Kelly Sanders is a creative powerhouse in the local arts community. At 26, Sanders worked at the Old Globe theater in San Diego where he discovered his passion for performing arts. When Sanders relocated to Honolulu in 2006, he was drawn to Diamond Head Theatre. There, he formed a fundraising campaign to help raise money for a new theater and has been on the board ever since.
Sanders’ talents in fundraising, forging partnerships and planning events helped him in his day job as general manager of the Sheraton Waikīkī. There, he worked with more nonprofits, and he began volunteering for the Hawai‘i Opera Theatre, Hawai‘i European Film Festival, American Red Cross, The Queen’s Medical Center and more. In 2017, Sanders was appointed by Gov. David Ige to serve on the board of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.
One of his favorite memories is being asked to be the creative director for the American Red Cross’ Heart Ball, which raises $1.2 million every year. Sanders secured Macy’s as a sponsor and added after-parties for young adults to mingle and dance. “The themes changed every year, with jazz or the ’70s. After a few years, we had everyone looking forward to what crazy ideas we would come up with for the next event,” says Sanders.
Sanders is a strong proponent of equal rights and supporter of the Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation. He’s worked with the Rainbow Film Festival coordinating media events and hosting judges and stars. For his dedication and hard work, he was honored with a 2018 Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation Visionary Award.
“It’s all about helping in any way that you can,” says Sanders, who is now vice president of operations for Highgate hotels in Hawai‘i. “Sometimes it’s not about money, but about having a bigger vision and elevating the support of the community in a broader way.”
Sanders’ advice for those interested in volunteering is to find a cause you support and do it for the right reason. “Then, engage others around you to commit to helping to sustain the ‘āina, this place we call home, and Hawai‘i will be an overall better place for generations to come.”