RAM welcomes new chief staff executive

He may be “the new guy,” but David Belew is already a familiar face around town.

Belew, RAM’s newly minted chief staff executive, moved from Chicago to Maui in November, a few months after his predecessor, Terry Tolman, announced his retirement. It’s safe to say that Belew has acclimated quickly: In the space of two months, he has met hundreds of people, joined a congregation, become a member of two board game clubs, and signed up to volunteer at the Maui Humane Society. Oh, and he also landed a role in Maui OnStage’s production of “Cabaret,” which opens at the Historic Iao Theater on March 2. “I’m not a sit-around kind of guy,” he laughed.

Born in Missouri and raised in Texas, Belew studied music at the University of Texas at El Paso, and later, earned a degree in information technology. In 1999, he was hired as a help desk analyst at the Chicago-headquartered American Bar Association (ABA) and swiftly scaled the ladder—from analyst to help desk manager to senior project manager to division director of marketing services. After 16 years at the ABA, he became the director of member services for the Alliance of Merger and Acquisition Advisors, a Chicago-based association of 2,000 merger and acquisition professionals. There, among other things, he supervised staff and oversaw all membership programs and activities.

Last summer, Belew spotted RAM’s job posting on LinkedIn and was instantly intrigued. “When I started reading the job description [for chief staff executive], I said to myself: ‘That’s everything I do,’” he recalled. “It was my job description.” Belew figured it could be a long shot (he knew there would be a flood of applicants excited by the prospect of working for a reputable organization on Maui), but decided to toss his hat in the ring anyway. Turns out, it was a very wise decision. After a flurry of phone calls, a Skype interview and a whirlwind, 24-hour trip to Maui to meet with RAM’s selection committee, he packed his things and waved goodbye to the Windy City in early November.

Apart from awaiting the arrival of his dog, Yakko, Belew says everything has fallen neatly into place over the past two months—and he attributes much of that to the warm welcome he’s received from RAM. “The members, the staff and the board have been very supportive,” he said. He also credits Maui’s thespians for making him feel at home. “The theater community has been so welcoming,” he said. Belew developed a passion for the performing arts at a young age, and over the years, he’s directed and acted in stage plays and musical productions in Texas, Missouri and Illinois (and now he can add Hawaii to that list). He didn’t waste any time signing up to audition for Maui OnStage’s production of “Cabaret;” he will also put his vocal chops on display during the “RAM’s Got Talent” show at the Historic Iao Theater on Saturday, Feb. 10.

In the days to come, Belew said he plans to explore Hawaii, hone his golf game, learn how to windsurf, and most importantly, continue to help RAM members be more successful in their careers. “I’m very happy to be here and to be a part of this organization,” he said. “This is my home now; I am so taken with this place.”

Belew succeeds Terry Tolman, who gave his time and talent to RAM for more than two decades. “Terry was instrumental in guiding RAM into the 21st century in terms of internet access, programs and applications designed to make business easier and more effective for the membership,” said 2015-16 RAM President Jeannie Wenger. “His contributions over the 20-plus years are astounding. Besides maintaining an office staff, he made sure to be the voice of RAM within the community, as well as the Hawaii Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. The membership owes him a debt of gratitude for his many years of service to Maui Realtors.”

The stars will align at this year’s ‘RAM’s Got Talent’

Ready to be entertained? If so, mark your calendars now: There will be plenty of entertainment to go around at the Historic Iao Theater on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. That’s when a group of RAM members will take the stage to play, sing, dance and joke their way into the winner’s circle at the sixth annual RAM’s Got Talent competition.

The fundraising event was conceived six years ago during the Hawaii Association of Realtors® Leadership Academy by four of its attendees: Marion Haller and Lisa Teichner of KW Island Living, Dave Futch of Coldwell Banker Island Properties and Tara Garcia of Maui Showcase Properties. Since then, RAM’s Got Talent has drawn a talented pool of contenders—including musicians, singers, dancers and comics—to the Historic Iao Theater stage every year.

And the fun begins long before the curtain rises. In addition to a pre-show party (there’s a post-show party, too), guests will be greeted by a team of interviewers on the red carpet; there will also be “cigarette guys and gals” selling fun trinkets to add to the glitzy, Hollywood-esque ambience. Audience members will also be treated to a special performance by last year’s winner, Moana Andersen of Equity One Real Estate, as well as toe-tapping tunes by the Natalie Nicole Band.

Last year, Andersen won the top prize of the night. Accompanied by Savannah Hoke, she impressed the panel of judges with her multi-instrumental performance of Helen Desha Beamer’s “Kimo Hula” and piano performances of Carl Phillipe Emmanuel Bach’s “Allegro” and “Solfeggietto.”

Phil Smith of Fine Island Properties took home the second place trophy for his saxophone performance of Louie Prima’s “Jump Jive and Wail.” The third place winner was Bob Wills of Coldwell Banker Island Properties, who dazzled the crowd with his renditions of Frank Sinatra’s “Wee Small Hours in the Morning” and “It Had to be You.” The “Audience Favorite” award was given to Chris Bakeman of Fine Island Properties for her side-splitting stand-up comedy act.

But the real winners of the annual event are the beneficiaries of RAM’s Got Talent: Maui OnStage and RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund. Since 1989, RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $620,000 in scholarships to college-bound high school seniors throughout Maui County, as well as past recipients of the scholarship. Funds for the scholarship program are raised through events like RAM’s Installation Luncheon, RAM’s Big Deal fundraiser and the “RAM’s Got Talent” show.

The second beneficiary, Maui OnStage, is a community-based theatrical organization that has occupied the Historic Iao Theater since 1984. Maui OnStage has played a pivotal role in keeping the theater thriving over the years and has been recognized as one of the longest-running theater companies in the United States. Since its inception in 2013, RAM’s Got Talent has raised close to $25,000 for Maui OnStage.

“Every year, RAM’s Got Talent gets better and the contestants are even more entertaining and fun,” said Haller, who is serving as the event chairperson for the second year in a row. “We are amazed that this keeps happening, but people keep stepping up to help us make a fabulous show to raise money for students and the Iao Theater. This year we have several bands competing, so that will be something very new. It is such a fun and delightful evening and the judges this year will make it especially fun. Don’t miss it.”

It’s too late to sign up to compete this year, but the RAM’s Got Talent committee encourages contestants of all stripes to put their talent on display at next year’s event. All RAM members and affiliates are eligible to perform. If you’d like to participate on any level—as a contestant, volunteer or sponsor—visit www.ramsgottalent.com or email ramsgottalent@gmail.com. The show begins at 7 p.m. and tickets are on sale now. Ticket prices range from $20 to $40 per person; tickets for the pre- and post-show parties are $30 per person. To reserve your seat or to purchase tickets for the pre- and post-show parties, visit www.ramsgottalent.com/buytickets.

Students encouraged to apply for RAM scholarship

For many high school seniors, the college application process is a much-anticipated rite of passage—but for some, it is overshadowed by a daunting question: “How am I going to pay for this?”

Without question, academic scholarships make the dream of college a reality for many students. Not only do scholarships make higher education possible for those who can’t afford to pay out of pocket, but they also help to spare cash-strapped college grads the angst of entering “the real world” with a cloud of debt hovering over their heads.

Just ask the 49 students from private and public high schools on Maui, Lanai and Molokai who are currently pursuing degrees—ranging from cybersecurity to biology and everything in between—at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. with the help of the scholarships they received last summer from RAM.

Since its inception in 1989, RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $620,000 in scholarships to college-bound high school seniors throughout Maui County, as well as past recipients of RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund. Every year, RAM offers scholarships to eligible recipients; funds for the scholarship program are raised through events like RAM’s Installation Luncheon, RAM’s Big Deal fundraiser and the “RAM’s Got Talent” show at the Historic Iao Theater.

To be eligible for the scholarship award, students must be a high school senior or a former recipient of the scholarship (from the previous three years) and they must be in the process of applying or reapplying to an accredited college or university or trade school. Applicants must also be full-time Maui County residents who are currently attending—or have previously attended—a public or private high school in Maui County; however, students attending private high schools off island will be considered residents of Maui County if they are living off island for the specific purpose of attending that private high school. Current GED participants are also encouraged to apply for the scholarship award.

Once they receive the completed applications, the members of RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund Review Committee carefully evaluate each applicant based on a number of criteria, including financial need, scholastic achievement, career goals, school activities and community activities. In addition, applicants are required to submit a written personal statement that answers the question: “Who are you?” They are also asked to write about their interests, concerns and expectations, as well as why receiving the scholarship is important to them.

Each year, the members of RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund Review Committee determine the total number of scholarship recipients. And what makes this scholarship program unique is that past recipients can apply every year they are in school (up to four years).

All of the scholarship recipients, along with their immediate family members, are invited to RAM’s General Membership meeting, which is held every year in July. There, they are honored on stage with a certificate and lei and then treated to a private luncheon, where they have an opportunity to mingle with the review committee members, as well as their fellow scholarship recipients.

Do you know a college-bound student who may be interested in RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund? Tell them to mark their calendars now: The deadline to apply for the 2018 scholarship is Friday, Feb. 23 and all mailed applications must be postmarked no later than Wednesday, Feb. 21.

For more information or to download a scholarship application, visit www.ramaui.com/scholarship, stop by RAM’s main office at 441 Ala Makani Place in Kahului, or contact your respective high school guidance counselor. To learn more about RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund, call Leeann Poaipuni at 270-4628 or email leeann@ramaui.com.


Written by Sarah Ruppenthal
Published in The Maui News – December 30, 2017

RAM members serve meals to those in need

For many RAM members, the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a generous helping of kindness. That’s why you’ll find some of them preparing and serving meals on Wednesday evenings during the holiday season—and throughout the year—at the Ka Hale A Ke Ola (KHAKO) Homeless Resource Centers in Wailuku and Lahaina.

Debra Merle of Island Sotheby’s International Realty spearheaded the first-Wednesday-of-the-month dinners at KHAKO in 1989. Since then, she’s recruited dozens of RAM members to help out, including many of her colleagues from Island Sotheby’s International Realty’s Wailea, Makawao and Lahaina offices. Among them are Rob Shelton, Teresa Nelle and Monica Starleaf; all three have become familiar faces in the kitchen at KHAKO.

“I signed up to organize the dinners almost 10 years ago when I heard Deb Merle asking for help at a Realtor® event,” Starleaf explained. “I was interested in various community service projects and I thought I’d give it a try…I’ve been regularly involved since.”

Like Starleaf, Shelton says he signed up as soon as the opportunity presented itself. “It was just the right thing to do,” he said. “It is always wonderful to be able to give back to those who are less fortunate.”

Starleaf shares the same sentiment—so much, in fact, that she brought her kids to KHAKO so they could lend a hand, too. “I took my children with me before they grew up and moved off island,” she said. “I believe it’s really important for us to encourage kids to help us with service to the guests at the shelter, so they realize how good their lives are with a place to live and food on the table—and to inspire some caring and empathy towards others.”

Nelle, who organized two dinners in 2017 and is planning to coordinate more in 2018, says the experience is intensely gratifying. “It’s very fulfilling to prepare and serve in this capacity,” she said. “Everyone feels better with their tummy filled. Our clients are very polite, friendly and thankful.”

Thirty-one years ago, KHAKO opened the doors to its first facility in a renovated Catholic church on the edge of a cane field in Puunene. In its first five years, the organization sheltered, fed and clothed more than 3,600 residents in need. In 1992, the organization broke ground on a new facility in Wailuku, and one year later, KHAKO Central began providing emergency food and housing to individuals and families in need. Then, in 2005, the organization welcomed the addition of KHAKO West Side in Lahaina. Today, KHAKO is a comprehensive resource center that provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, counseling services and adult education and training, as well as a primary care medical clinic and childcare facilities.

Shelton encourages other RAM members to consider signing up for a volunteer shift at KHAKO. “The staff is always great to work with—and seeing the satisfaction and hearing the thank-yous from the residents for a meal that is well prepared and respectfully served is all you need,” he said.

Starleaf couldn’t agree more. “I always feel great after doing it; the people at the shelter are so appreciative,” she said. “It makes my heart feel happy and full of love.”

KHAKO provides thousands of meals to men, women and children every year and volunteers are always needed to prep, cook and serve food at its Central and West Side facilities. To learn more about food donation or volunteer opportunities, visit www.khako.org/volunteer. For more information about Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, visit www.khako.org or call (808) 242-7600.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – December 23, 2017

RAM member inspires others to give back

Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” It’s one of Randy Tsurusato’s favorite quotes—and it’s one that he personifies. “Giving back to those in need is a natural state for me, like breathing,” he explained. “It feels good…and it is just part of who I am.”

Whether it’s helping burn victims and their families, pitching in to help Maui’s veterans or serving hot meals to the homeless, the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle Realtor®-Broker is always prepared to lend a helping hand.

Tsurusato, who was a career firefighter before entering the real estate industry, has contributed his time and talent to a number of worthy causes over the years. This includes, and is not limited to, the Southern Nevada Burn Foundation Burn Unit at the University Medical Center at Southern Nevada; Toys for Tots; firefighter bachelor auctions for local charities; After the Fire is Our Program (which provides assistance to burn victims and their families); Camp Beyond The Scars (a San Diego-based camp that helps young burn survivors reclaim their confidence and self-esteem); Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada; Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals; Christmas in April (a volunteer organization that provides free, much-needed home repairs to low-income families, veterans, and the elderly); American Heart Association’s Maui Heart Walk (Tsurusato received the “Top Walker Award” in 2016 and 2017 and served as co-captain of this year’s 15-member Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate team); Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers; RAM’s Education Committee; RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund; Maui Monopoly Tournament (which benefitted the Maui Food Bank and Habitat For Humanity Maui); and Kaunoa Senior Center, where he’s taught cooking classes to seniors alongside members of the Maui Fire Department.

Tsurusato, who was active duty in the U.S. Air Force for nine-and-a-half years and then served as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force Reserves for 13 years, also helps his fellow veterans at the Maui VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, UH Maui College Veterans Resource Center and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Maui Vet Center.

Tsurusato said he caught the volunteering bug several years ago while working as a firefighter in Las Vegas. “When we were off duty, we would go to the local elementary school to teach the children about fire prevention in the home,” he recalled. “The kids’ faces lit up and they had smiles from ear-to-ear as they got to try on our gear and learn how to ‘stop, drop and roll.’ The feeling from that experience is when the ‘giving-back bug’ really started. It was a simple act, yet it had a profound impact on me.”

Of all his volunteer experiences (and clearly, he has plenty to choose from), Tsurusato says there’s not one moment or event that stands apart from the rest—they all have been equally meaningful. “They are all very inspiring. Every smile I’ve seen is a favorite memory…there are simply too many to count,” he said. “Interacting with the community and its members makes me feel connected, like we are all in this together. Being here on Maui really allows for a sense of strong community and doing what is pono.”

The greatest reward of stepping up to help out, Tsurusato says, is knowing that you’re doing the right thing. “When I am able to give back, it allows me to live pono—to do what is right, to live in balance,” he explained. “It is a state that allows for the greatest good for myself, as well as that of the community and the individuals I serve.”

With that in mind, Tsursato encourages others to give back in any way they can. “Get inspired by a cause you truly care about,” he said. “You will be changed forever by your direct impact.”

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – December 16, 2017

Realtor® helps Maui students score a ‘perfect 10’

They say good things come in threes—but sometimes, they come in tens.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program held a “10 for 10” fundraiser, which began in August and ended in September. The fundraiser netted more than $7,200 in cash and school supplies (all in increments of $10), which will enable the Wishing Well program to continue ensuring every student—not to mention, every teacher—has what he or she needs to thrive in the classroom. “The needs in our community are seemingly overwhelming at times—so just imagine what it must be like for parents, grandparents and teachers who are struggling to make ends meet to make sure keiki have the supplies they need to succeed in school,” said Wishing Well founder Sarah Sorenson. “I am so grateful to all who gave what they could to the ‘10 for 10’ campaign. These funds will allow us to continue to give necessary supplies throughout the year to all of our public schools. Each $10 grew 700-fold…a little really does build up to a lot.”

For the past decade, RAM members and Wishing Well volunteers have collected school supplies, slippers, furniture and other items with the goal of improving educational experiences and opportunities for Maui County’s public school students. Many parents are unable to provide the basic items their children need throughout the school year, so the simple act of collecting and distributing school supplies is a game changer for many students—and teachers, too.

Throughout the year, Wishing Well volunteers collect and distribute “wish list” items (which run the gamut from pencils to playground balls to scientific calculators) to teachers and school administrators. The Wishing Well program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and there are no administrative costs, so 100 percent of everything donated—cash, services and goods—goes directly to the schools. And the Wishing Well’s reach isn’t confined to the island of Maui—it covers all 35 schools in Maui County and serves approximately 22,000 students on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Since it was founded in 2007, the Wishing Well program has collected and contributed more than $1.65 million in goods, services and cash donations to every school in Maui County.

Yes, you read that right: $1.65 million.

It’s clear that Wishing Well volunteers have stayed busy over the past decade. Among other things, they’ve filled five shipping containers bound for Molokai and Lanai; sent truckloads full of furniture and supplies to Hana; quickly rounded up hundreds of floor fans to ward off stifling indoor temperatures at multiple schools during a recent heat wave; and collected thousands of slippers so students would be able to come to school with proper footwear.

The Wishing Well program has certainly come a long way in 10 years, but there’s more work to do, Sorenson said. Financial donations are always needed for larger purchases and “in demand” items. “We collect and distribute school supplies, backpacks and slippers year-round,” Sorenson explained. “Just because school starts in August doesn’t mean extra pencils and filler paper aren’t needed in March.”

For the past eight years, Wishing Well volunteers have held school supply drives at the entrance of the Kmart store in Kahului. But now that the store has closed its doors, Sorenson says donations are more important than ever—and every little bit helps. “Plastic storage containers, gently used office chairs, flat-screen TVs or even clean area rugs are always welcome,” she said. “Of course, cash allows us to purchase the specific educational tools that teachers need. Besides, it is a tax write-off, so everyone benefits.”

Want to make a difference for Maui’s students? Contributions to the Wishing Well program can be made in person at the RAM office, which is located at 441 Ala Makani Street in Kahului, or by visiting www.ilovemauischools.com and making a PayPal donation. Checks should be made out to “RAM Community Foundation” with “Wishing Well” noted in the memo line. Donations are needed year-round and if you’re looking to offload any new or gently used household or office items, call Sorenson at 283-3969. For more information about the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program or to view a list of needed items, visit www.ilovemauischools.com or email Ramcf@ramaui.com.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – December 9, 2017

RAM member honored for labor of love

For Donna Ting, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is more than just a catchphrase—it’s a guiding principle.

In October, Ting, a property manager and Realtor-Broker with Tri-Isle Realty & Development Co., was selected by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) as an honorable mention winner of Realtor® Magazine’s 2017 Good Neighbor Awards. The annual awards program honors NAR members across the nation who have made a difference in their communities through volunteer work. Since 2000, the Good Neighbor Awards program has awarded more than $1.1 million in grants to the winners’ charities. As an honorable mention recipient, Ting will receive a $2,500 grant for La‘akea, the organization she co-founded nearly two decades ago.

Seventeen years ago, Ting, along with other concerned residents, set out to create a residential and vocational lifesharing community where autistic and intellectually/developmentally disabled (IDD) adults could have meaningful employment and living options. For Ting, it was a mission of the heart: She’d come to realize that adults with special needs have very few opportunities for advancement once they age out of high school. 

In 2004, Ting met Andrea Hall Rodgers (who now serves as La‘akea’s executive director), and in the years that followed, the pair worked tirelessly to make the dream of La‘akea a reality. Among other things, they managed to convince county lawmakers to lease a parcel of land in Upper Paia; Ting also paid for a residential water meter out of her own pocket and later secured developers’ credits to purchase a larger water meter for the property (which saved La‘akea close to $50,000).

Then, in 2010, La‘akea opened its doors as a state Department of Health (DOH)-licensed agency, with a 12-acre working organic farm, community center and country store. Two years later, Ting was knocking on lawmakers’ doors at the state Capitol, lobbying for a $400,000 grant to fund La‘akea’s expansion into housing. And the timing was nothing short of serendipitous: a nine-bedroom foreclosed home had just come on the market directly across the street from the farm. Ting didn’t waste any time typing up an offer, and although it was significantly less than other offers, hers won the bidding war. Ting persuaded a few of her contractor pals to renovate the house, and in 2014, it opened as a state DOH-licensed group home. In addition to operating the group home, La‘akea also serves additional day program clients and manages three apartments supporting IDD clients where they live independently.

Today, with support from the county, the state legislature, select private foundations, individual donors and IDD providers countywide, La‘akea’s residential and day programs give people with disabilities an opportunity to work and thrive together—and share the fruits of their labor with others (people stop by the farm weekly for locally grown organic fruit and vegetables and handmade gifts). “That’s why I worked so hard to make this happen—I wanted people to have a job, a home, friends and a meaningful life,” Ting said.

It comes as no surprise that Rodgers nominated Ting for this year’s Good Neighbor award—in fact, the only person who was surprised by the nomination was Ting herself. And it’s not the first time she’s been acknowledged for her giving nature: In June 2016, she was honored as Maui’s “Housing Hero” during the first annual Maui Landlord Summit. The award acknowledged Ting as a compassionate, understanding property manager and landlord who treats all of her tenants—past, present and future—fairly. 

Ting started selling homes part-time at the age of 19. When a few of her clients asked her to keep a close eye on their investments while they were on the mainland, she took on a new and unexpected role as a property manager. Today, she manages close to 100 properties all over the island. And if you ask the countless tenants she’s worked with over the years, they’ll tell you Ting has given them more than just a place to live—it’s also given them a place to call home.

At the end of the day, Ting says giving back—and doing the right thing—is what matters most. “I’ve been given so much in my life,” she said. “And I feel blessed to be able to give back. It’s what makes me happy.” 

For more information about La‘akea, or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.laakea.org , email mail@laakea.org, call 579-8398 or stop by the farm’s country store, located at 639 Baldwin Ave in Upper Paia, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – December 2, 2017

Realtor® sets the tempo for music education

They say music is the language of the soul, and if that’s the case, it’s safe to say that Bob Wills is more than well-versed—he’s fluent. Wills, a Realtor®-Broker with Coldwell Banker Island Properties, is the founder and music director of the Maui Chamber Orchestra, the Maui Masterworks Chorale and the Maui Masterworks Festival.

Looking back on it now, Wills says his foray into music began somewhat serendipitously. As a pre-med student at the University of Saint Thomas in his home state of Minnesota, Wills, who had dabbled in music in his formative years, decided to join the university’s choir. As he stood on the choral risers belting out Mendelsohn and Brahms, Wills says he realized he’d found his true passion. Soon after, he enrolled in voice, conducting and—to the bewilderment of many of his classmates—music theory courses, just for fun.  

Wills eventually abandoned his plans to pursue a medical career and pivoted to music. Since then, he’s racked up his fair share of acclaim as a conductor, soloist and actor (yes, he’s a triple threat). Among his many achievements—a list too long to include here—he has conducted two concerts at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, as well as concerts in Dublin, Rome, Assisi, Venice, Vienna, Munich, Lucerne and Jerusalem.

When Wills moved to Maui in 2007, he didn’t waste any time joining a choral group. It wasn’t long before people took note of his talent—especially when he accomplished the impressive feat of singing both the tenor and bass solo roles in Handel’s “Messiah” in 2009. In 2010, Wills and his wife, Beth, started the Maui Masterworks Chorale; an inaugural performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” was held at the Kihei Baptist Church. Wills says he was expecting 150 people to show up that day—and was astonished when close to 600 arrived. “It was standing room only,” he said. “That’s when we knew we had something that Maui really needed.”

That was the catalyst for the creation of the Maui Chamber Orchestra (MCO) and its vocal counterpart, the Maui Chamber Orchestra Chorus. In 2014, and under Wills’ direction, the newly minted MCO kicked off its first multi-program season at the Historic Iao Theater. Since then, MCO, now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, has grown by leaps and bounds—and not just in terms of players, concerts and ticket sales. Last year, MCO introduced a program called CHIMES (Communities Helping in Music Education for Students) to raise funds to pay for lessons and purchase instruments and other equipment for Maui youth, with the goal of nurturing a lifelong love of music.

Earlier this month, Wills, along with several MCO musicians, visited Kindergarteners and first graders at Kahului Elementary School and Kihei Elementary School as part of a free, curriculum-based program through CHIMES. In the first of four sessions scheduled this academic year, the group delivered percussion instruments (which the schools get to keep, and at no charge) to both schools and taught students the fundamentals of playing non-pitched percussion in accordance with a class reading assignment. The program will follow the students until they reach the sixth grade; they will learn how to play different instrument groups—from pitched percussion to strings to woodwinds to brass—every year.

Wills encourages others to support the fledgling program so it can expand to other schools, noting that the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of music education are immeasurable. And with that in mind, he is planning a series of family concerts modeled after American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein’s ever-popular Young People’s Concerts; Wills is seeking a title sponsor to underwrite the concert series. He would also like to see Maui become a destination for musicians and music lovers alike—and judging from the extraordinary talent on display at each MCO concert, it’s clearly not a far-fetched idea.

The Maui Chamber Orchestra and Chorus will perform its “A Classical Christmas” concert at the Historic Iao Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17. Tickets are on sale now; call 242-6969 or visit www.mauionstage.com to reserve your seat. The first-ever Youth Concerto Competition will be held next month; the winners will take the stage Saturday, Feb. 3 and Sunday, Feb. 4, during Maui Chamber Orchestra’s Young Artists Showcase at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets will be on sale soon. 

To learn more about the Maui Chamber Orchestra, for more information about upcoming concerts, or to inquire about donor, sponsorship or volunteer opportunities, visit www.mauichamberorchestra.org, email info@mauichamberorchestra.org or call 214-6371.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – November 25, 2017

Realtor® serves up joy at senior center

When he’s not working with a client or helping save lives, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find Kapono Stupplebeen in the kitchen, cooking up something special.

Stupplebeen pulls double duty as a fire inspector and public education officer with the Maui Fire Department and a Realtor® Salesperson with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate (BHGRE) Valley Isle. He’s also a whiz in the kitchen—a talent he credits to his grandmother. “I learned from my grandma,” he said. “With her help, I made my first Thanksgiving dinner when I was 12.”

Two and a half years ago, Stupplebeen was given an opportunity to put his culinary skills on display when Kathy Ramos, activity programmer for Kaunoa Senior Services, asked if he and a few firefighters would do a cooking demonstration at the Kaunoa Senior Center in Spreckelsville. The event, which was conceived as a fun and interactive way to keep fire safety top of mind in the kitchen, was an instant hit. “The initial event went so well that we were asked if we would consider doing another,” Stupplebeen recalled. “The firefighters and the seniors were happy, so we kept it going.”

Since then, Stupplebeen and several Maui firefighters have given quarterly cooking demonstrations at the center. The group usually prepares a pupu or side dish, an entrée and a dessert; menu items have run the gamut from fried rice to carne asada tacos to Acai bowls to Pinakbet. “We are all over the map,” Stupplebeen said. At the most recent event in September, the group whipped up some dry mein, teriyaki beef sandwiches, Thai curry with pork and vegetables, and—to top it all off—bananas Foster for dessert. The dishes may vary, but they all have three things in common—well, most of the time. “We try to keep the dishes economical, fast and easy to prepare, and healthy. We do well when it comes to ‘economical’ and ‘fast and easy to prepare,’ but sometimes we miss the mark on ‘healthy,’” he joked.

But they always hit the mark with their audience. “At the last demo, Aunty Kris Tavares and her friend, who have both attended a few of the demos over the years, brought us leis they made with yarn and tabs from soda cans,” Stupplebeen said. “That just threw us all back to small kid time with the beer can yarn hats and Primo aloha shirts. It was very special.”

And, he said, “We have had attendees over 100 years old come to the demos and tell us that it was the best time they have had in a long time.”

It’s easy to see why: Stupplebeen says the cooking demonstrations are light-hearted and genuinely entertaining—one of the many reasons why he and his fellow firefighters are always looking forward to the next one. “The seniors are not afraid to let you know if they are happy or not with the job you’re doing; we get instant feedback. So, when they compliment you, it’s real and from the heart,” he explained. “The smiles and talk story afterward are always priceless and we love to hang out and hear their stories.”

With that in mind, Stupplebeen encourages others to consider sharing their talents—culinary or otherwise—at the senior center. “They are always looking to provide the seniors with fun and fresh events,” he said. “I would like to thank the staff at Kaunoa for what they do day in and day out. People talk about how important the kupuna are, but the people at Kaunoa treat them that way every day. It is appreciated.”

Located in Spreckelsville, Kaunoa Senior Center is an activity and resource center for seniors ages 55 and better; it is part of Kaunoa Senior Services (a division of the county’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns), which provides opportunities for seniors to learn and grow through a variety of programs.

The next cooking demonstration will take place on Friday, Dec. 8. Seating is limited to 40 participants (ages 55 and older) and Stupplebeen says seats fill quickly; contact Ramos at 270-7308 to make a reservation.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News

Patrick Kilbride: The genuine article

There are some people who change the way we see the world by inspiring us to live more selflessly—and reminding us that kindness and compassion always win.

Patrick Kilbride is one of those people.

In September, Kilbride (affectionately known as “PK”), announced he was retiring from the real estate industry. The now former Old Republic Title Company senior account executive and Realtors® Association of Maui (RAM) affiliate will pursue new, yet-to-be-determined endeavors—and his absence has been felt by many of his colleagues. “It was truly an honor to work with such an encouraging and respectful man,” said Old Republic Title Company Operations Manager and Maui Manager Lydiamae Presbitero. “He always had something nice to say to make you feel good about your day. I miss working with him every day.” It’s a sentiment shared by Old Republic Title Company account executive Melissa Salvador. “Every day Patrick came to work with a smile and a hug,” she said. “His desire to help people is truly unmatched and he has no ulterior motive. I challenge anyone to find someone with a bigger heart than PK.”

And “heart” is the operative word, as Kilbride continually goes above and beyond to help others—never expecting anything in return. Twenty-six years ago, he caught the volunteering bug when his daughter’s soccer team needed a coach. Since then, he’s never hesitated to raise his hand and contribute his time and talent whenever and wherever they are needed. Over the years, he’s volunteered for a number of worthy causes and organizations, including, but not limited to, the Maui Food Bank; Aloha BackPack Buddies Program; Montessori Hale O Keiki; Rotary Club of Kahului; Maui United Way; Horizons Academy of Maui; Waipuna Chapel; Kids Hope USA; the Hale Kau Kau program at St. Theresa’s Church; Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers; Habitat for Humanity; Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui; Maui Marathon; and RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund. Kilbride is also the mastermind behind the annual St. Patrick’s Day Bocce Ball Fundraising Tournament at Mulligan’s on the Blue; he started the tournament in 2012 to benefit the Maui Food Bank’s Aloha BackPack Buddies program, which provides healthy weekend meals to elementary school children from food-insecure homes throughout the academic year.

So, it comes as no surprise that the perennially enthusiastic (and oft-costumed) Kilbride has been—and still is—an inspiration to so many. “I was lucky to have people helping me when I was growing up; living angels, that’s what I call them,” he said in a 2016 interview. “My opportunity to become a living angel for kids and families on Maui has been a blessing to me and my own family.”

And clearly, he’s been a blessing to Maui, too. “Patrick is one of the kindest and most giving and hardworking people I know,” said 2017-18 RAM President Rhonda Hay. “He is always going out of his way to do something nice for someone else.”

Recently, Hay was a beneficiary of Kilbride’s capacity for good. “I was sick one Saturday and took myself to urgent care,” she recalled. “I ran into Patrick as he was leaving [urgent care]. I went inside to be checked in and when I returned to the waiting room, there sat PK with a Safeway bag filled with soup, bottled water and bread for me.  This is the kind of thing that PK does every day. Some people donate their time or money once in a while, but PK is a walking act of kindness. The world needs more people like PK.”

Kilbride has always encouraged others to follow his lead and infuse each day with equal parts kindness and compassion. “Being one of Maui’s living angels as an adult will help to heal your hurt, your sadness or any doubt and pain you may have experienced as a child or as an adult,” he said. “Being able to help a child, being able to help a family with food or helping a single mother with clothes and toys for her kids are acts of kindness that will encourage others to have faith and to believe there is hope for a better life.”

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – November 11, 2017