The 2021 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. During this time, we have needed these dedicated people more than ever not only to assist, but to inspire us. We found them in a woman who has been an advocate for the voiceless for decades, a husband-wife team that turns compassion into action and a young woman who began her battle against bullying in middle school.


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The Tireless Advocate

Nanci Kreidman moved to Hawai‘i as a young woman with just her bicycle and camp trunk. Now, she’s entering her fourth decade of fighting for those who feel powerless because of domestic violence.

By Christi Young


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Photo: Sean Marrs



When I told Nanci Kreidman that she was an Ola Pono winner for 2021, her emailed response was that she was honored, but “I am not a volunteer.” She’s right, of course: Kreidman is the CEO and founder of the Domestic Violence Action Center. But her co-workers, friends and family say her work extends far beyond any regular hours. It’s something she doesn’t consider extraordinary, but essential, “to go to the mat every way, every day.”


Kreidman speaks quickly. You sense her words, punctuated with laughter and ringing with passion, race to keep up with her mind. She moves just as fast. It’s been that way since she graduated with a communications degree from Rutgers University in the 1970s and began working for a community action program. When its members began developing the first program for “battered women,” they asked Kreidman to help. “I was a young feminist and they could identify my fire,” she says.


Shortly after, the adventurous young woman moved to Hawai‘i where she sold luggage at the International Market Place and worked weekends at the state’s only women’s shelter. Every Sunday, she watched women head out from the Kalihi house hoping to find a job, a place to live and a new life. Sunday night, the same women returned to the shelter, defeated by logistics, and packed up to go home. “I just was panicked by that, thinking, ‘Well, he hasn’t changed over the weekend, this is dangerous,’” she says. So, Kreidman got moving. She initiated the first film that allowed local survivors to tell their emotional stories for a local audience, co-created a men’s program for abusers, started a victim support program, taught courses about domestic violence and substance abuse at Leeward Community College and Chaminade University, and founded the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse (now the Domestic Violence Action Center) in 1990. The young wife and mother faced obstacles from the beginning, especially as a “white girl” from New Jersey battling to gain trust and respect in Hawai‘i’s tightknit communities.


“As a community we have to stand up to it. Safe families are at the core of a healthy community.”


“At the point where it felt overwhelming, whatever the barrier, whatever the challenge, a new opportunity would present itself,” Kreidman says. “I really got that this was my assignment in this lifetime. This was my life’s work. It was a message to me to keep going and so I kept going.”


In her 40 years of fighting for others, “we’ve raced forward and we’re standing still,” she says. Kreidman lists the successes: domestic violence programs on every island; laws increasing safety; training programs; open conversations in businesses, health care settings, the legal system, schools and religious groups. Still, hearing the same misconceptions now that she heard decades ago—he was just stressed, she brought it upon herself, it’s a poor person problem—is horrifying.


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Photo: Courtesy of Nanci Kreidman



“Some days, I would come home at the end of the day and I would just be chanting to myself [that] this is not going to happen in my lifetime, the change I would like to see. And that was a way to be at peace with the hard work and the failures.”


She turns to nature for respite. Every morning, she meditates and swims, leaving her goggles at home. “I want to get into the water and close my eyes,” Kreidman says. “I don’t want to see anything, I see too much all day long. I just want to get into the water and be immersed by the healing nature of the ocean.” She bicycles. She walks in the forest. She fills her house with flowers.


And she focuses on her family. “I couldn’t have done all this without a supportive partner and supportive family,” she says. Her husband of more than 30 years, Bernie Paloma, is a retired Honolulu Fire Department captain. Her three children—two biological and one who joined their family as a 10-year-old foster child—live in Hawai‘i and serve the community. When asked what they learned from their mother’s tireless journey, her son, now 31 and a lifeguard and father, wrote: “Working for the community is a never-ending but fulfilling purpose. There’s a lot of things in the way, but small acts of kindness and love make the biggest difference.” Her oldest daughter, 34, says: “This work is never-ending; it is all day, middle of the night, any day, it doesn’t stop on weekends. And progress can be slow. But it is worth it and it is necessary. I am honored and thrilled to share my mom with the community to ensure all voices are heard and fought for.”


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The Dedicated Duo

Partners in life and business, Amanda Corby Noguchi and Mark Noguchi build on individual relationships to feed the state.

By Martha Cheng


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Photo: Courtesy of Pekuna Hong from Kicking Bird Photography



The night Mark Noguchi heard the shelter-in-place orders that meant children would not be returning to school after spring break, he immediately sent a message to Jack and Kim Johnson, asking what they could do for the students who relied on public school lunches. The Johnsons responded, “Your wife just emailed the same thing.”


“This is what brought us together in the beginning,” says Amanda Corby Noguchi, “a similar core value of service.” Amanda had worked in restaurants much of her life, starting when she was 15 as a hostess at an Italian restaurant in Missouri, where she’s from. She worked at Duke’s Waikīkī before founding her own event company, Under My Umbrella. Mark turned to culinary school and the restaurant industry when he realized he couldn’t make a living doing what he was doing—dancing hula for Hālau o Kekuhi, one of Hawai‘i’s most revered hula hālau. The two met when Amanda hired Mark, then-chef at He‘eia Kea Pier and General Store, to cater the convening of the Hawai‘i Food Policy Council. Mark remembers Amanda as no-nonsense, while he was “flying by the seat of my pants” in the face of disaster after disaster—a water main break at the Pier and a police car chase that shut down Likelike Highway, cutting off his access to Kalihi, where the event was. Their dynamic caused friction at the time—he remembers thinking he never wanted to work with her again. And yet, today, nine years later, their differences are complementary—Amanda’s intense attention to detail and organization (and an eye that, even in the middle of our Zoom call, notices the family’s chicken eating the kale in their garden and off her Tiffany plates), help ground Mark’s effusiveness for everything from a good inflatable pool to saimin to a lo‘i workday.


“We’re just being of service to one another. And depending on who you’re working with, it’s different for every community.”


Within days of that first shutdown, the couple had mobilized their vast network of connections, cultivated from more than a decade of working in restaurants; their event coordination business Pili Group; and Chef Hui, which they founded to strengthen Hawai‘i’s food systems. In one weekend alone, along with Aloha Harvest, they rescued more than 20,000 pounds of food from abruptly shuttered hotels and restaurants and distributed 10,000 meals to children, families and seniors throughout the community.


“We saw that the government and [Department of Education], everyone is trying to figure out how to handle it,” says Amanda. “We were so small, we were able to move quickly to fill in the gaps where people weren’t being served.” But she also knew that eventually the donated food would run out, that farmers and chefs would need to be paid, and the numbers of hungry Hawai‘i people would only grow. “We need to be looking at the future and responding at the same time,” she says. They laid the groundwork so that now, more than eight months into an economy devastated by the pandemic, Chef Hui has expanded statewide. “There’s no secret sauce,” she insists. What there is, is people.


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Photos: Courtesy of Pekuna Hong from Kicking Bird Photography and Chef Hui



One of the couple’s greatest strengths is their ability to forge connections—to see a gap and bring people and groups together to bridge it. They always partner with community groups and businesses, whether it’s the Kaimukī football team and coach David Tautofi or the Child & Family Service nonprofit, Habilitat counselors in Kāne‘ohe or the Wai‘anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Ige’s Hālawa Lunch & Catering or Haili’s Hawaiian Food—those who know their communities best.


“You don’t go in and say, ‘I’m here to help,’” says Mark. “That can be taken as ho‘okano—stuck up.”


“It says, ‘You’re weaker than me,’” adds Amanda. “We ask, ‘Can I be of service to you?’ We even do that with our girls (daughters Frankee and Elee). It’s a leveling space. We’re just being of service to one another. And depending on who you’re working with, it’s different for every community.”


It would be easiest to standardize the food distributed throughout the state, but crisis has only strengthened one of Mark’s favorite mottoes: Cook your heritage. “We try to make our food match the community we’re serving,” Amanda says. That might mean eggplant to Kaimukī and Pālolo; ‘ulu and guisantes to Papakōlea; lemons, ginger, garlic and honey to Micronesian communities. “These were the things that brought them comfort.” Standardization and a top-down approach would mean “missing on some healing we can be doing as a community,” she says. “Collectively, the hope is that we are cultivating a culture of service and not a culture of dependency. It’s community showing up for community.”



The Inspired Student

Mahealani Sims-Tulba turned a traumatic childhood experience into a lifelong passion project to promote positivity and extend a loving hand.

By Katrina Valcourt


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Photo: Courtesy of Mahealani Sims-Tulba



A list of the honors and awards Mahealani Sims-Tulba has earned for her community service could fill this entire page. Over the past decade, the ‘Ewa Beach woman has won numerous local pageants—including her latest title, Miss Aloha Latina 2020—and received the national President’s Volunteer Service Award and the international Diana Award, established in honor of the late Princess of Wales. She’s written a book and founded her own anti-bullying nonprofit, taking her message of spreading kindness and courage to schools across the state. And she’s only 20 years old.


Parents Augie and Kimberly Tulba took Sims-Tulba to volunteer at shelters when she was a little girl starting to get interested in community service. It turned out that she loved giving back. Her best friend at the time participated in pageants, so she decided to enter Miss Junior T.E.E.N. Hawai‘i in the fifth grade and discovered that “pageantry helped improve my confidence and opened the door to even more community service opportunities, which I loved being a part of,” she says. “That is what sparked my true passion for community service, and I haven’t stopped since!” She’s worked with the Hawai‘i Foodbank, American Red Cross, Autism Society of Hawai‘i, American Heart Association of Hawai‘i, Make-A-Wish Foundation, The Children’s Miracle Network, Mental Health of America Hawai‘i and the American Association for Suicide Prevention, all as a Sacred Hearts student.


But with the competitions came ugly words from classmates, including her then-best friend, who she says teased her and spread mean-spirited rumors. It was so bad, she says, she switched schools in eighth grade. “Remembering the way I felt in those moments is what continues to fuel my desire to help other youths who have ever felt the same way,” Sims-Tulba says. She started at the age of 11 by writing and illustrating a book, It’s Okay to Be Different, that Watermark Publishing printed in 2013, then launched B.R.A.V.E. Hawai‘i, which stands for Be Respectful And Value Everyone, when she was 13.


“We as a family are all committed to involvement in community service and giving back in any way we can.”


Through B.R.A.V.E., Sims-Tulba has spoken to tens of thousands of students, reading them her book and holding interactive presentations at the elementary, middle and high school levels to teach them to accept one another and to promote compassion. Because of this, she was selected as the state honoree for a Prudential Spirit of Community Award in 2018. “I was invited to Washington, D.C., to attend the awards ceremony, where B.R.A.V.E. was nationally recognized for our work here in Hawai‘i. It was such a huge honor,” she says, and it was encouraging to be surrounded by others who shared her mindset. This all happened before she even graduated from high school.


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Photo: Courtesy of Mahealani Sims-Tulba



Though much of Sims-Tulba’s work with B.R.A.V.E. revolves around talking with classes in person, the pandemic hasn’t put a stop to her drive—she speaks to students virtually when she is not working toward getting her esthetician’s license. And soon, B.R.A.V.E. will expand its reach through the B.R.A.V.E. Leadership Academy, which trains students, community leaders, teachers and influencers to spread the messages in their own communities and classrooms.


“B.R.A.V.E. opened so many doors for me while I was still in high school,” she says. “Now that I am no longer in high school, I have a lot more time to utilize those opportunities and help B.R.A.V.E. evolve with new programs and projects.” Sims-Tulba plans to attend UH Mānoa next semester to pursue a degree in marketing and further B.R.A.V.E.’s reach. “I want to be able to spread the messages of all the different projects I’m currently working on, as well as upcoming projects, to as much of the community as I can.”


Ten years after winning her first pageant, Sims-Tulba has come full circle with the launch of her own pageant, Miss American Scholar Hawai‘i, which she hopes to make a national competition. “Through this pageant, we are striving to give young women all across the United States the opportunity to further their education through scholarships and to recognize them for community service,” she says. The pageant emphasizes kindness and respect with a no-bullying policy to give young women the confidence to be more active participants in their communities and give back in a way she’s found to be so meaningful in her own life. She’s also inspired her family. Father Augie T decided to step away from his comedy career to help with B.R.A.V.E. and run for Honolulu City Council. Sims-Tulba says: “We as a family are all committed to involvement in community service and giving back in any way we can. B.R.A.V.E. wouldn’t be where it is today without our shared goals and dedication to teamwork.”