Whether its caroling in the snow, building gingerbread houses, or posing for photos in matching Christmas sweaters, the holidays are full of family traditions.

Bob, Donna and Clint Hansen of Maui Luxury Real Estate LLC have their own family tradition—one that continues to brighten the holidays for kids in need. For the past two decades, the Hansens have collected thousands of toys for the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui. “When you see the sparkle in a child’s eyes, you know it is the right thing to do,” Donna said. “The children who benefit have been through such trauma in their innocent lives.”

It is a sobering reality: According to the National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 American children are victims of neglect or physical or sexual abuse every year. That’s why Hawaii’s Children’s Justice Centers are so important. The centers are programs of the Hawaii State Judiciary and were established by the state legislature in 1986 to ensure a fair and neutral process for the handling of reports of child abuse. Today, there are five centers statewide: West Hawaii, East Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai and Maui (the Maui center also serves children living on Molokai and Lanai who are flown in for interviews and medical examinations). Each center is designed to make children feel safe and comfortable while being interviewed about reports of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, and as witnesses to crimes. On average, the state’s Children’s Justice Centers see an estimated 1,300 children per year—and many of these children arrive with no more than the clothes on their backs.

That’s where organizations like the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui step in to help. Like its counterparts on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island, the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui supports the Children’s Justice Center, promotes community awareness of child abuse and neglect and provides services to help children recover from the damaging effects of their abuse.

Among other things, every holiday season, the nonprofit collects and distributes toys to abused and neglected kids of all ages throughout Maui County. And for many of them, it’s the only gift they’ll receive.

Simply put, these toy drives make Christmas wishes come true. “Because of people like the Hansens, we’ve never had to say no to a child,” said Paul Tonnessen, executive director of the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui. “They are phenomenal.”

Throughout the year, the Hansens round up gifts, gift cards and cash donations; the toy drive kicks into high gear after Thanksgiving and culminates with an annual party at the family’s home in mid-December (however, the Hansens will continue to collect donated toys until Monday, Dec. 22). All of the donations stay in Maui County and will be distributed to children on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Bob, Donna and Clint say they are forever grateful to those who support the toy drive every year. “There are a lot of beautiful people that contribute to this important event,” Donna said. “One of the many is the outstanding support given by the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians, who donated thousands of dollars to help the Maui children with their needs.”

The Hansens encourage others to support the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui in any way they can. “Just know that you are making a child have hope—they will know someone cares and they are not alone,” Donna said. “Our children are our future; give them a chance with whatever you can. There are many ways to give back, your time being one thing.”

And there’s still time to contribute to the toy drive. You can bring a new, unwrapped gift for children of any age (or a gift card or check made out to the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui) to the Hansens’ office during normal business hours in the Wailea Town Center, 161 Wailea Ike Place, Suite A-106. You can also call 874-8473 to schedule a pick-up.

Or, you can drop off donations at the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui office, which is located at 1773-A Wili Pa Loop in Wailuku. For more information about the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui, visit www.mauicjc.org or call 986-8634.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – December 15, 2018

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