The holidays may be behind us, but it’s never too late to reflect on the season of giving. Just ask Reggie Audant, who is still basking in the glow of the Christmas spirit.

Last month, Audant, a Realtor-Broker with Wailea Realty Corp. A Boutique of Windermere Real Estate, started a new holiday tradition: He volunteered to be a bell ringer for The Salvation Army. He’d learned about the fundraising opportunity from his friend, Patrick Kilbride, who serves as the president of the Kiwanis Club of Kahului. “Patrick told me that we had an opportunity to sing a few Christmas songs and bring some cheer to others. I told him, ‘count me in.’”

And there was some friendly competition. “The Kiwanis Club of Maui challenged the Kiwanis Club of Kahului to see which club would raise the most donations,” Audant explained. “Patrick invited Brooks Maguire and myself to help his club.” Maguire is a Maui-based singer, songwriter and guitarist—and a mutual friend of Kilbride and Audant’s.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, Audant and Maguire joined a team of bell ringers—composed of Kiwanis Club of Kahului members and non-member volunteers—at Walmart. From 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., they took turns manning a red kettle at the store’s garden center entrance (Kiwanis Club of Maui volunteers were stationed at Walmart’s main entrance). “Brooks and I had a great time singing and entertaining the Walmart shoppers during our two-hour shift,” Audant said. “I really enjoyed seeing the eyes of the kids and adults light up when they heard a familiar and fun song.”

At the end of the day, the Kiwanis Club of Kahului was crowned the victor: The club’s volunteers collected $1,032.77; the Kiwanis Club of Maui netted $824.97.

The red kettle tradition began in San Francisco in 1891. That December, Joseph McFee, a captain in The Salvation Army, sought to provide a free dinner for 1,000 of the city’s poorest residents on Christmas Day. But there was one problem: He didn’t have the money to pay for it. A former sailor in Liverpool, England, McFee recalled seeing large iron kettles on the docks of the city’s waterfront—passersby would toss coins into the pots to help the poor. With that in mind, McFee placed a brass urn at the busy Oakland ferry landing with a sign that read: “Keep the Pot Boiling.” McFee eventually had the funds he needed to finance the Christmas dinner. He didn’t know it at the time, but he had created an enduring holiday tradition.

Today, The Salvation Army’s annual red kettle campaign raises millions of dollars for programs that provide food, shelter, rehabilitation, disaster relief and other services for people and families in crisis.

For many, the tinkling bells have become synonymous with Christmas—and this year, you may be hearing them long before the holiday season begins. Plans for a “Christmas in July” bell ringing event are underway. In July, Maui’s Kiwanis clubs and several other service clubs—including Rotary and Lions Clubs—will take part in a one-day bell ringing event to raise money for families in need throughout Maui County (the date and locations are still undetermined).

Kiwanis International is a global community of clubs, members and partners dedicated to improving the lives of children. Like so many others, Audant says he is inspired by the Kiwanis mission: “Changing the world by serving children, one child and one community at a time.” “It is an awesome organization that is all about service and helping kids and adults alike,” he said. “Kiwanis [members] are a reflection of the love for service that motivates them and others to put their servant hearts to use.”

In addition to supporting The Salvation Army, the Kiwanis Club of Kahului also sponsors two key clubs (the oldest and largest student-led service program for high school students) at King Kekaulike High School and Baldwin High School. The club also participates in the Maui Food Bank’s Aloha BackPack Buddies program at Wailuku Elementary School (the program provides healthy weekend meals to elementary school students from food-insecure homes throughout the academic year). Additionally, the Kiwanis Club of Kahului supports the annual Shop with a Cop program and the Pediatrics Department at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

Audant encourages others to consider signing up to be a bell ringer for The Salvation Army—in July or next December. “It was a blast. Bring a smile and allow your heart to overflow with aloha,” he said. “It is so rewarding to receive as much love as you give.”

To learn more about The Salvation Army, visit www.salvationarmy.org/. For more information about Kiwanis, visit www.kiwanis.org.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – January 19, 2019

When a friend invited Karin Carlson of NextHome Pacific Properties to a Rotary meeting three years ago, she says it exceeded all of her expectations. Soon after, she was inducted as a member of the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea—and she’s relished every moment since. “It feels good to know that we are making a difference in the community,” Carlson said.

It’s a sentiment shared by her fellow Kihei-Wailea Rotarians and Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) members, Kathleen Tezak of Elite Pacific Properties, LLC and Mark Harbison of Coldwell Banker Island Properties.

Rotary International is an international service organization composed of business and professional leaders who create positive, lasting change in communities around the world. There are more than 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide who abide by the same motto: “Service Above Self.” The Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea, which was chartered in 1978, is one of nine Rotary clubs on Maui.

Without question, these Rotarians have a zeal for community service. Among other things, they award tuition scholarships to college-bound students; distribute dictionaries to every third grader at Kihei Charter School and Kihei and Kamalii Elementary Schools; and support the Interact clubs (Rotary-sponsored service clubs for youth) at Lokelani Intermediate School and Kihei Charter School.

And in 2017, the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea raised funds to install lifesaving rescue tube stations at six South Maui beach parks. The club was granted permission by the county to purchase and install the rescue tubes—sentinel flotation equipment that can stabilize distressed swimmers before rescue—every 300 feet from Kalama Park to Keawakapu Beach. Since 2017, the club has installed 40 tube stations along the South Maui coastline; Carlson says at least 10 lives were saved in 2018 through the use of the devices.

The need for these rescue tubes cannot be overstated. Rogue waves, rip tides and strong currents can appear out of nowhere—and occur more often than most realize. According to the state Department of Health, ocean drownings are the second leading cause of fatal injuries in Maui County and are responsible for more deaths than vehicular or motorcycle accidents.

The tube stations are hard to miss: The bright, banana-yellow cylindrical flotation devices are conspicuously placed at the high-water mark mauka (mountain-side) of the vegetation line. The rescue tubes are mounted on tall poles topped with a yellow flag; the poles are equipped with a GPS position locater so 911 dispatchers will know where to send emergency responders.

The tubes, which are designed to keep three adults afloat, are outfitted with a 10-foot-long tether line at one end. In an emergency situation, bystanders can toss the tube into the water or—if they can safely do so—swim out with it so the distressed swimmer can hold on to it until emergency responders arrive. The club bought the rescue tubes from the Rescue Tube Foundation, a Kauai-based organization that aims to lower the incidence of drowning by providing a sufficient number of these lifesaving devices at recreational aquatic environments throughout the state.

Kihei-Wailea Rotarians routinely monitor and maintain the tube stations and hope to see them installed on beaches countywide. The club’s rescue tube chairperson, Gary Redfern, is currently working with three Rotary clubs in Lahaina to install 22 rescue tube stations on West Maui beaches (the locations are still undetermined).

Needless to say, these Rotarians stay busy. And you can help them continue their good work. The Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea will hold its annual fundraising dinner, “Kaina Kountry Rocks for Rotary with emcee Kathy Collins,” at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea from 5 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16. The event will raise money for the club’s service projects. There will be a buffet dinner, silent auction (you can bid on items online prior to and during the event) and live music and entertainment by Kaina Kountry, a country music band guaranteed to get everyone on the dance floor.

Carlson is the chairperson of this year’s fundraiser and encourages everyone to attend. “Not only will you have an opportunity to contribute to the club’s projects, but you’ll also have a lot of fun,” she said.

To learn more about the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea or to purchase tickets for the Feb. 16 fundraiser, visit www.mauirotary.org. Tickets are $85 per person. Sponsorships are still available. The online silent auction opens on Tuesday, Jan. 15; visit 32Auctions.com/RCKW2019 to place your bid.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – January 5, 2019

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 61 students from private and public high schools on Maui, Lanai and Molokai who are currently pursuing degrees at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. with the help of the scholarships they received last summer from the Realtors Association of Maui (RAM).

Since its inception in 1989, RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund has awarded scholarships to college-bound high school seniors throughout Maui County, as well as past scholarship recipients. Every year, RAM offers scholarships to eligible recipients; funds for the scholarship program are raised through events like RAM’s Installation Luncheon, the Realtors Presidential Scholarship Golf Event, 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 2019 scholarship is Thursday, Feb. 28 and all mailed applications must be postmarked no later than Tuesday, Feb. 26.

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.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – January 5, 2019

For as long as she can remember, Mary Anne Fitch has had an affinity for art. From painting to sculpture to photography, she has a deep and enduring appreciation for all things artistic.

That’s why Fitch and her husband, Nam Le Viet, both of Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers and Christie’s International Real Estate, do what they can to keep the arts alive and thriving on Maui.

Over the years, the couple has supported a number of arts-related endeavors, including the Maui Arts League, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that promotes visual fine arts and creates opportunities for people of all ages to experience art.

It’s a mission that Fitch and Le Viet wholeheartedly endorse—so much, in fact, that Le Viet volunteered to serve on the organization’s board of directors.

The Maui Arts League fosters an appreciation for fine art through a variety of programs, including home art tours, lectures and plein air events (“en plein air” is the act of painting outdoors, a style developed primarily in France during the mid-19th century; it became a central feature of French impressionism). The organization’s flagship event is the annual Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational, which is held every February in West Maui.

Every year, professional artists (those who excel in the category of plein air painting) are formally invited to attend the nine-day-long event, which features “paint outs,” art sales, workshops, lectures, discussion panels, collectors’ receptions and a youth event. At each paint out, art collectors and aficionados can observe the artists as they paint outdoors; over the course of the Invitational, the artists collectively produce more than 175 paintings, which are then exhibited and sold.

Now in its 14th year, the 2019 Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational will feature 24 plein air artists from Hawaii, the mainland and Australia. From Feb. 16 to 24, the painters will capture the beauty of Maui—from people to buildings to seascapes to mountain vistas—at designated sites throughout West Maui, including Lahaina Harbor, Kapalua Bay, and the Royal Lahaina Resort.

It’s something Fitch and Le Viet look forward to every year. “It’s an opportunity to watch an artist paint…and to develop a relationship with them at the same time,” Fitch said. “And it’s an opportunity to buy a beautiful and original piece of art.”

Over the years, the couple has sponsored special events in conjunction with the Invitational; they’ve also volunteered to be a host family for visiting artists.

But this year, they decided to do something different.

On Sunday, Nov. 25, Fitch and Le Viet hosted the first-ever “Paint the Town Together” event at Taverna in Kapalua in support of the 2019 Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational; it drew more than 75 attendees. It was an evening chock full of fine food, fine wine and fine art, but Fitch says there was an ulterior motive. There are many people who are unfamiliar with the concept of plein air painting, she said, “So we thought we’d have a fun party and show them what it’s all about.”

That evening, two award-winning plein air artists, Carleton Kincade of Lahaina and Mark Brown of Oahu, put their talent on display; they painted two original pieces that were subsequently offered for sale. Rita Boyle, senior vice president of Christie’s Trust, Estate and Wealth Management Services, gave a presentation for experienced and first-time art collectors titled “Supporting Your Community Through the Arts.”

“Paint the Town Together” was so successful that Fitch says she is considering doing it again next year. “I really enjoy hosting events that bring the community together,” she said. “Especially when it benefits the arts.”

The 2019 Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational will take place Feb. 16 through 24 at designated sites in West Maui. To learn more or to view a detailed schedule of events, visit www.mauipleinairpainting.org or email info@mauipleinairpainting.org. For more information about the Maui Arts League or to learn how to become a benefactor of the arts, visit www.mauiartsleague.org.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – December 29, 2018

This was no ordinary shopping spree: Just before sunrise on Saturday, Dec. 8, squeals of delight rang out as 54 kids and more than 60 Maui Police Department (MPD) officers and cadets whisked through the aisles of the Target store in Kahului during this year’s “Shop with a Cop” event.

The annual holiday event was launched on Maui 15 years ago by Bruce McDonald, a Realtor Broker with Maui Real Estate Advisors LLC and a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Kahului. It’s something McDonald looks forward to every year—in fact, he says he hardly sleeps the night before. “I’m too excited,” he laughed. “It reminds me of when I was a kid, trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve.”

And it’s easy to see why McDonald is so excited. “When you see the expressions on the faces of these kids—it’s just unreal,” he said. “It’s the best day of the year for me. And it’s a great day for everyone involved.”

Each year, the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui selects kids whose families could use a little boost during the holiday season. The children and their family members arrive at Target bright and early at 6 a.m. and have breakfast as they await the much-anticipated main event: Santa’s arrival. After Santa makes his grand entrance, he calls each child’s name and gives them a wrapped gift. Then, the child is paired with a shopping buddy—a uniformed police officer or cadet—who takes them around the store to pick out other presents with a $100 Target gift card.

Apart from spreading some holiday cheer, the annual event aims to build trust between the community and law enforcement and change kids’ perceptions of police officers. One year, McDonald said a little boy arrived at the event visibly fearful of the uniformed officers. But a few hours later, with a toy police car clutched in one hand, the boy proclaimed, “I want to be a policeman when I grow up.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do—show these kids that police officers are their friends and they there to help,” McDonald said.

And it’s always a good time.

“The officers have a blast, the kids have a blast, we have a blast and it’s just a feel-good day for everyone,” McDonald said.

He says the Kiwanis mission—“changing the world by serving children, one child and one community at a time”—inspired him to bring the Shop with a Cop program to Maui in 2004. In addition to supporting Shop with a Cop every year, the Kiwanis Club of Kahului sponsors two key clubs (the oldest and largest student-led service program for high school students) at King Kekaulike High School and Baldwin High School. The Kiwanis Club of Kahului also participates in the Maui Food Bank’s Aloha BackPack Buddies program at Wailuku Elementary School; the program provides healthy weekend meals to elementary school students from food-insecure homes throughout the academic year. In addition, McDonald said, the club recently wrapped up its 6th annual Kiwanis Club of Kahului/Maui Memorial Foundation Golf Tournament, with all proceeds benefiting the Pediatrics Department at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

It’s not too early to contribute to next year’s Shop with a Cop; McDonald said cash donations and gift cards are always welcome. With more assistance, more kids can participate, he explained. After all, at the end of the day, it’s really all about the kids. “That’s why we do this year after year,” McDonald said. “Bringing joy to others is the greatest gift of all.”

To learn more about the Shop with a Cop program, contact McDonald at Bruce@BruceOnMaui.com. For more information about Kiwanis, visit www.kiwanis.org.

 

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – December 22, 2018

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

It’s never too early to get into the holiday spirit.

Just ask Melissa Smith and Elizabeth Wood of Coldwell Banker Island Properties. They kicked off the season of giving in late October when they started planning a toy drive for children and teens staying at Women Helping Women’s emergency shelter and Ka Hale A Ke Ola (KHAKO) Homeless Resource Centers in Wailuku and Lahaina.

It’s the second time Smith and Wood have collected toys for those in need. They came up with the idea last year while serving meals at KHAKO’s Wailuku location. (Realtors Association of Maui members volunteer at the shelter every month; Debra Merle of Island Sotheby’s International Realty spearheaded the dinners in 1989.)

One mid-November evening, as they prepared meals in the KHAKO kitchen, Smith and Wood learned there would be 100 children staying at the shelter during the holidays. “It touched our hearts,” Wood said. “We both agreed we had to do something.”

That’s when the pair concocted a plan: they decided to collect 100 toys for each child at the shelter. In the days that followed, they rounded up gifts, and to their surprise and delight, they exceeded their goal—they had gathered 200 toys in just a few short weeks.

A few days before Christmas, Smith and Wood loaded up their cars and drove to KHAKO. There, they delivered the bounty of toys to executive director Monique Yamashita, who, until that moment, had harbored concerns there wouldn’t be enough gifts for the kids. “It felt really good…because it was the right thing to do,” Smith said. “It was the best part of our Christmas.”

So much, in fact, that she and Wood made an on-the-spot pledge to Yamashita. “We promised her we’d continue to do it every year,” Smith said.

And they’ve kept their word. Since early November, Smith and Wood have been busily stockpiling new, unwrapped gifts for kids of all ages (from infants to toddlers to tweens to teens) in Wood’s living room-turned-Santa’s workshop. To keep things organized and to ensure everyone receives a gift, each item is labeled with a blue tag (handmade by Smith and her children) that indicates the corresponding recipient’s age, gender and shelter location.

This time around, Smith and Wood started early and expanded their efforts to include the more than two dozen children at Women Helping Women’s emergency shelter—in addition to the nearly 170 youth currently residing at KHAKO’s two shelters.

There’s still time to contribute to the toy drive. Smith and Wood will be collecting items until Thursday, Dec. 13; toys are still needed for three age groups: infants, 1- and 2-year-olds, and 7-year-olds. To donate, contact Smith at 298-6810 or Wood at 385-8888. Or, you can drop off a new, unwrapped gift (worth at least $20 and tagged with the corresponding age range and gender) at any Coldwell Banker Island Properties office, with the lone exception of the Lahaina office.

And true to their word, Smith said, “We will do this again next year—and every year.”

KHAKO is a comprehensive resource center that prepares families and individuals for permanent housing while providing emergency shelter, counseling services, addiction recovery management and adult education and training, as well as a primary care medical clinic and childcare facilities. The nonprofit organization underwent a paradigm shift last year, redirecting its focus to breaking the cycle of homelessness by finding and maintaining permanent housing for its residents.

Women Helping Women provides crisis intervention and support services for direct and indirect victims of domestic violence on Maui and Lanai. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to end domestic violence through advocacy, education and prevention, while offering safety and support to those impacted by domestic violence. Every year, Women Helping Women helps close to 1,500 women, men and children impacted by domestic violence.

To learn more about KHAKO or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.khako.org or call 242-7600. For more information about Women Helping Women, visit womenhelpingwomenmaui.com, email info@whwmaui.net or call the main office at 242-6600. If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 579-9581.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – December 8, 2018

It was a quiet day at the office for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle on Friday, Nov. 2.

That’s because 25 of its agents spent the day at Assistance Dogs of Hawaii’s main campus in Makawao. There, they rolled up their sleeves and completed several beautification projects, including planting herbs and flowers on the property, clearing a gazebo area, and cutting back overgrown cane grass that had obstructed an oft-used pathway. “We worked hard, had some lunch and then snuggled puppies,” said Realtor-Broker Erin Clapper. “Dogs have this way of immediately calming people and lifting their spirits, so spending time with them after a morning of hard work was the best reward.”

The agents of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle have volunteered for a number of community service projects over the years, including beach clean-ups, and pitching in at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui. And when it came time to choose a project for November, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii was a unanimous choice.

“Ask anyone who knows me: I love dogs and I love giving back to the community,” said owner and principal broker Leslie-Ann Yokouchi.

And she’s not the only one. “We have so many dog lovers in our company,” Clapper explained. “Our offices are pet-friendly and we’ll have a handful of dogs in the office on any given day. We had done some projects serving other parts of the community, but it’s been a while since we served our animal community. Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is such an amazing program that we thought if there was an opportunity to serve them in some capacity, we’d like to do it.”

Assistance Dogs of Hawaii (formerly Hawaii Canines for Independence) is a Maui-based nonprofit that provides professionally trained assistance dogs to people in need throughout Hawaii—all at no cost. Executive director Mo Maurer and her husband, Will, founded the organization nearly two decades ago, and since then, more than 70 service dogs have graduated from the program. Simply put, these dogs change lives. “They give people the independence and a better life that we all strive for,” said Yokouchi. “These dogs give love, loyalty and a sense of confidence that cannot be found elsewhere.”

Prior to being matched with their human counterparts, every assistance dog must complete a rigorous training program and pass health and temperament screenings. The dogs are carefully selected based on breed, health and temperament; they begin four stages of training starting at seven weeks old. Team training camps are held several times a year, and once a team graduates, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii provides follow-up training for the life of the team.

In addition to training service dogs to assist children and adults with physical disabilities so they can lead more independent lives, the organization also places courthouse dogs in prosecutor’s offices statewide and places highly skilled facility dogs at hospitals.

The organization also sponsors several community outreach programs, including a therapy dog program for the hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters; a “Paws for Reading Program” that brings therapy dogs to libraries to assist children who have difficulty reading; a “Wounded Warrior Program” that pairs assistance dogs with military veterans; and a workplace readiness program that creates part-time job opportunities to help high school students with special needs gain work experience that will help them find employment after they graduate.

Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is also making its mark in the field of medical bio-detection. The organization partnered with Kapiolani Medical Center and Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii to conduct a groundbreaking research study: dogs were taught to “sniff out” bacterial infections in human urine, thereby providing early detection of life-threatening medical conditions. The study was recently mentioned in the New England Journal of Medicine and won the Oxford Journals editor’s choice award.

“It is difficult for me to describe the importance and great work Mo is doing,” Yokouchi said. “I urge everyone to find out on their own. Mo welcomes everyone to learn and see what she is doing. You will be amazed.”

To learn more about Assistance Dogs of Hawaii or to inquire about volunteer or donor opportunities, visit www.assistancedogshawaii.org, email info@assistancedogshawaii.org or call (808) 298-0167.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – December 1, 2018

The statistics are staggering: According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and an estimated 2,470 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. As researchers work tirelessly to find a cure, the disease continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide each year.

That’s why Sunny VerMaas, principal broker with Maui Paradise Properties, signed up for the fifth annual Maui Paddle for a Cure at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa on Saturday, Oct. 13.

To commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, dozens of stand-up, kayak, and canoe paddlers took to the water to promote breast cancer awareness and raise funds for Susan G. Komen Hawaii, which sponsors breast cancer education and screening and treatment initiatives in Hawaii.

This year’s Maui Paddle for a Cure was presented by the Hyatt Regency Maui in partnership with The Butterfly Effect and Maui Jim. In the weeks leading up the event, participants collect donations individually or as a team. In its first four years, Maui Paddle for a Cure raised more than $115,000 for Susan G. Komen Hawaii through donations and registration fees; event organizers set a fundraising goal of $55,000 for last month’s event and are still tallying donations.

At this fun-filled, non-competitive fundraising event, there are no race bibs or timers—only smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement. Some of the participants are breast cancer survivors. And nearly all have been affected by cancer in some way.

VerMaas is no exception. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected during their lifetime by someone close to them who has battled this disease,” she said. So, when three of her clients suggested she and her assistant, Diane Bercik, stand-up paddleboard (SUP) with them at an annual event benefitting Susan G. Komen Hawaii, VerMaas says they signed up without a moment’s hesitation. “I was aware of the event, but this was the first time I participated,” she said.

And here’s the other thing: It was only her second time on a stand-up paddleboard.

In spite of being a novice, VerMaas says the prospect of paddling a few miles along the Kaanapali shoreline didn’t faze her. “I decided I was going to go for it. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen—fall off the board and get back on? So that’s what I did,” she said. “I was a little shaky at first, but once the paddle was in the water and forward movement occurred, it was much easier.”

VerMaas credits the fluid nature of the event (both in and out of the water) to its organizers. From the very start, she said, “It was just wonderfully organized. The Hyatt did an outstanding job making sure all the people arriving with their equipment knew exactly where to go, and made sure the participants got their welcome bags and GPS tags [to track them out on the water]. The blessing was beautifully poignant and drew us all in as a group before the event started.”

After that, VerMaas said all of the paddlers—rookies, pros, and everyone in between—headed for the water. “Again, the organizers of this event were right on the money,” she said. “They had many experienced people in the water helping to launch participants on their boards and people in canoes and kayaks encouraging participants and giving SUP tips. And people were there to help when participants finished the course.”

And the proverbial icing on the cake was the after party at the Hyatt Regency Maui. It had all of the trimmings: a buffet, silent auction, vendor booths, a lei po‘o (flower crown) lounge, and live entertainment by award-winning singer and songwriter Anuhea (who also participated in the event). “It was such fun to see so many people I know who came out for this truly inspiring event,” VerMaas said.

It was her first Maui Paddle for a Cure—and VerMaas says it definitely won’t be her last. “We have made outstanding progress and contributed significant funds to battle this dreadful disease,” she said. “And we need to continue the fight.”

For more information about Maui Paddle for a Cure, visit www.crowdrise.com/MauiPaddle18. To learn more about Susan G. Komen Hawaii, visit www.komenhawaii.org.

On Sunday, Oct. 14, a group of Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) members joined forces to make a difference for the students of Pomaikai Elementary School as part of Hawaii Realtors’ Realtor Action Day.

Those volunteers were Lianne Peros-Busch of Peros Realty Company; Vanessa Baldos of Coldwell Banker Island Properties; Erin Clapper of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle; Kelsey Daimon, RAM’s marketing and communications manager; Jon Irvine of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle; Darlene Peralto of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle; and Ruby Wong of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle. And a few non-RAM members pitched in, too: Several volunteers brought their elementary school-aged children to lend a hand—and to learn how rewarding it is to give back.

“My daughter Ava is a first-grader at Pomaikai Elementary School,” Peros-Busch said. “Realtor Action Day was a good opportunity for us to participate in an activity together and to teach her about community stewardship.”

This year, as part of its statewide community service project, Hawaii Realtors—formerly the Hawaii Association of Realtors—partnered with the Adopt-A-School Day program, which hosts an annual day of awareness and service to schools throughout Hawaii on the second Sunday in October. “It was an effort to join forces with Realtors across the state,” Clapper said. “Many Realtors already serve their communities well, but we really wanted to show a unified ohana by involving every island if we could. We even had a few Realtors do a project on Lanai.”

On Maui, the volunteers arrived at the Pomaikai Elementary School campus in Kahului bright and early on the morning of Oct. 14, where they were given a brief orientation. After a quick review of the “honey-do” list, they rolled up their sleeves, opened a few cans of paint, and got to work. By the end of the day, they had stenciled and painted sets of coordinating numbers up and down the school’s staircases to help students learn their multiplication tables. “We went through several sets of staircases and attached the stencils, then went through and painted them, then went through a final time and removed the stencils after the paint dried,” Clapper explained.

Baldos says she was thrilled by the end result. “I participated in Realtor Action Day because of the gratitude that I have for our clients,” she said. “As a Realtor, our clients come from the community. It felt right to give back to them through a day dedicated to community outreach. Participating was an opportunity to understand how our work not only affects our current clients—our impact extends towards the future generations as well.’

Like her fellow volunteers, Peralto said she relished the opportunity to give the elementary school some TLC. “Participating in the Realtor Action Day allowed me the opportunity to do a little part to help the teachers and children of our community,” she said. “It was fun and I enjoyed the time sharing our efforts in this small way.”

This was the first coordinated Realtor Action Day on Maui—and Clapper says it won’t be the last. “We look forward to growing the event and serving more schools around the island,” she said.

She encourages all RAM members to consider signing up for next year’s Realtor Action Day. “I would encourage anyone to who has two hours on a single Sunday in the fall to consider serving in this capacity,” Clapper said. “We provide all the supplies, instruction—and snacks, too. It’s a family-friendly event, so kids are welcome, and it’s a great opportunity to allow them to experience serving their community.”

To learn more about Realtor Action Day or to view a list of the community service projects that took place statewide on Sunday, Oct. 14, visit www.hawaiirealtors.com/rad/.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – November 17, 2018