Mark your calendars: The Wishing Well…for Maui Students program will host its first-ever fundraiser, aptly titled “Wishes with Fishes,” on Saturday, Aug. 11, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea. The 21-and-over event will feature a buffet dinner, silent auction and live music by acclaimed slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson, the Natalie Nicole Band and the award-winning ukulele-powered Hawaiian reggae folk rock band, Kanekoa. And the Maui Ocean Center will have several naturalists on hand to answer questions.

But the best part? As you dine and dance surrounded by sharks, rays and hundreds of fish, you’ll be making a difference in the lives of thousands of students.

For the past 11 years, the Wishing Well program has been making wishes come true for students, teachers and school administrators on Maui, Lanai and Molokai. And the program is a dream come true for its founder, Sarah Sorenson, who has worked on the front lines of public school education as an elementary school teacher, high school counselor and substitute teacher. Sorenson says her experience inspired her to create a program that would support and provide resources to chronically underfunded public schools.

Since the Wishing Well program was founded in 2007, volunteers have collected and distributed “wish list” items (which run the gamut from pencils to playground balls to scientific calculators to rubber slippers) to teachers and school administrators throughout the academic year. Many parents are unable to provide the basic items their children need in the classroom, so the simple act of collecting and distributing school supplies is a game changer for many students—and teachers, too. The Wishing Well program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and there are no administrative costs, which means that 100 percent of everything donated goes directly to the schools. And the program’s reach isn’t confined to the island of Maui; it covers all public schools in Maui County and serves approximately 20,000 students on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Run entirely by volunteer RAM members, the Wishing Well program has collected and contributed more than $1.65 million in goods, services and cash donations to Maui County’s public schools.

Yes, you read that right: $1.65 million.

“Because of our high cost of living, our teachers are the most underpaid in the nation, yet they are constantly reaching into their own pockets to purchase items for their classrooms—on average, our teachers spend $1,000 of their own money for educational material and supplies for their classrooms, as well as for their students,” Sorenson said. “We help them get much-needed supplies, teaching materials and furniture, all to augment their instructional needs for themselves and their students.”

As the program has grown, so have the number of requests from teachers, Sorenson said. In the past, Wishing Well volunteers held annual school supply drives at the entrance of the Kmart store in Kahului. But now that the store has closed its doors, Sorenson says monetary and in-kind donations are more important than ever—and every little bit helps.

One-hundred percent of the money raised at the “Wishes with Fishes” fundraiser on Aug. 11 will go directly to Maui County’s public schools. You can help students and teachers by attending the event or by gifting an auctionable item, certificate, monetary donation or service-related contribution. “All donations are welcome,” Sorenson said.

Tickets for the adults-only “Wishes with Fishes” fundraiser are $100 per person and can be purchased online at or in person at the RAM office, which is located at 441 Ala Makani Street in Kahului. Donations are needed year-round and many teachers have requested items that would help them in their classrooms, like bookcases, gardening tools for school gardens, file cabinets, chairs or clean area rugs so students can gather for learning or quiet time. If you’re looking to offload any new or gently used household (no appliances) or office items, call Sorenson at 283-3969.

For more information about the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program, to make a PayPal donation or to inquire about “Wishes with Fishes” event sponsorship or donor opportunities, visit or email


The Maui News – June 23, 2018

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