On any given Thursday afternoon, you’ll find Karin Carlson of NextHome Pacific Properties loading cooler bags full of hot meals into the backseat of her car at St. Theresa’s Church in Kihei. “I look forward to it every week,” she said. “I love it.”

Carlson is a volunteer driver for Hale Kau Kau (“House of Meals”), a nonprofit organization that works to alleviate hunger by providing nutritious meals to South Maui’s hungry and homebound. Founded in 1991 and headquartered at St. Theresa’s Church, the organization serves free dinners unconditionally—no questions asked—to anyone who comes to the kitchen at meal time. Hale Kau Kau also delivers meals to elderly, ill and disabled homebound individuals 365 days a year—rain, shine or otherwise. In addition, in collaboration with Keolahou Hawaiian Congregation Church, Hale Kau Kau distributes food baskets and emergency food supplies on a weekly basis to families in crisis. The need for Hale Kau Kau cannot be overstated: Since its inception 26 years ago, the organization has served and delivered more than 1.2 million meals to individuals and families in need throughout South Maui. 

Carlson started driving for Hale Kau Kau in 2004. She was at a weekly Realtors®’ caravan meeting in South Maui when Kathy Worley, a broker with Pali Kai Realtors® and the co-founder of Hale Kau Kau, made an appeal. “She told us ‘we need more drivers to deliver meals,’” she said. “Then she pointed out that Realtors® know every street in the area, so we’d be very good at it.”

It was certainly a convincing argument, but there was something else that piqued Carlson’s interest. “I love to drive,” she laughed. “I really like being behind the wheel.” Not to mention, Carlson was no stranger to making house calls: Before she became a Realtor®, she’d worked for several years as a home health care nurse. Carlson says there are many parallels between home health care and delivering meals for Hale Kau Kau. “I get in my car and go to recipients’ homes, where I make sure they’re nourished—and that they’re doing OK,” Carlson explained. “It gives me a new level of appreciation for them and what they’re going through.”

It takes a little over an hour for Carlson to drive her assigned route, drop off meals and chat for few minutes with the person answering the door. “It’s so easy to do,” she said. “You can make a big difference in short amount of time.” In fact, Carlson says it’s one of the highlights of her week. “It’s a real win-win for everyone,” she said.

Carlson encourages others to support Hale Kau Kau in any way they can. Apart from delivering meals, volunteers can help out in the kitchen, provide clerical support or serve on fundraising committees. Hale Kau Kau relies on grants and private donations to keep its programs running, so Carlson said cash and in-kind donations are needed, too. “Every little bit helps,” she said. And donations go a long way: A $100 contribution to Hale Kau Kau can cover 200 meals for people in need.  

When it comes down to it, Hale Kau Kau is there for all of us, Carlson said. “It’s there for anybody and everybody,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen in life—there may be a time when you or I or someone close to us will need Hale Kau Kau’s services. That’s why it’s so important to support this organization.”

Tickets are still available for Hale Kau Kau’s 18th annual benefit auction, which takes place tomorrow, Sunday, March 26, from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea. The event, which is set to raise around 30 percent of the organization’s annual operating budget, will feature entertainment, a Pacific rim dinner and hundreds of live and silent auction items up for bid. To learn more about Hale Kau Kau, for more information about donor or volunteer opportunities or to purchase tickets for the organization’s benefit auction, visit www.halekaukau.org, email halekaukau@rcchawaii.org or call (808) 875-8754.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – March 25, 2017

Seven years ago, life took an unexpected—and profoundly gratifying—turn for Brian Hill of Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers. That year, he and his partner decided they wanted to grow their family through private adoption. But Hill says their plans changed when a coworker shared her experience as a foster parent. “After several intriguing conversations, we decided to give fostering a try,” he said.   

Not long after, Hill and his partner signed up to become foster parents. The process, which he notes has changed a bit over the years, was more fluid than he had anticipated. “There are informational meetings where you can ask questions and get real answers from real foster parents. Once you are ready, there’s a training program to complete—both in classroom and at home,” he explained. “Foster parents need to pass a criminal background check—and every six months thereafter—and a TB test. After all of that is done, your license is issued. To renew your license, foster parents need to complete annual training program(s) of their choice. It’s not a significant time commitment and it’s a good way to share best practices.”

Since receiving his license seven years ago, Hill has welcomed eight children into his home. “We typically take school-aged children, as we both work and we all know how challenging it is to find daycare on the island,” he said. “The youngest child that we’ve cared for was four years old and the oldest child was 16 years old.”

Looking back now, Hill says he and his partner never expected foster parenting to be this rewarding. “We are both so happy we decided to try it,” he said. “We love being foster parents and it’s a really good fit for us.”

According to Adopt US Kids (a project of the U.S. Children’s Bureau that helps connect children in foster care with families), there are currently 2,766 children in foster care in the state of Hawaii; 878 of those children are waiting for adoptive families. All children in foster care are from a diversity of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and many are part of a sibling group.

The first two children placed in Hill’s home were siblings: a 12-year-old boy and his 4-year-old brother. When he first arrived, the older child had significant behavior problems and was performing poorly in school, Hill said. “Fast forward roughly nine months later when they went back to their family and that boy was getting As and Bs, learned ways to control his emotions, improved his social skills and was overall a much happier child,” he said. “That child recently reached out to me to share his college acceptance letter. We are so proud of him and all that he has accomplished.”

Hill says people frequently ask him: “Is it hard when they leave you and are reunified with their family?”

“No,” he said. “You have to go into this understanding that the goal is reunification. It’s a positive outcome when their family can resolve or manage the issues that brought them into the system. That may mean an addict getting sober, a homeless family providing an appropriate home or a mentally ill parent finally getting the help they’ve needed. Those are all positive outcomes for the children and our community.”

With that in mind, Hill said he hopes his story will inspire others to consider signing up to be a foster parent. “If you have the space in your heart and your home, it can be a genuinely rewarding experience,” Hill said. “Please understand that children coming into the foster care system are in the system because of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. They’ve had a rough start in life and they won’t be perfect—but really, who is?”

Hill says there’s a secret recipe for foster parenting and there are three main ingredients. “Stability, consistency and unconditional love,” he said. “Every child has right to those basic needs.”

To learn more about fostering and adoption in Hawaii or for more information about foster and adoption licensing requirements, visit www.adoptuskids.org/for-families/state-adoption-and-foster-care-information/hawaii.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – March 18, 2017

Robby Seeger knows a good cause when he sees one—and that’s when he brings out his camera to film it. “There are so many far-reaching stories that start right here in the community,” he said. “I get to bring them to life.”

Seeger, a Realtor® with Coldwell Banker Island Properties, runs a professional video production company and routinely helps worthy causes tell their stories through film. Over the years, he’s used his cinematography skills to bring awareness to a range of societal and environmental issues worldwide.

Last December, Seeger bumped into professional big wave surfer and conservationist Torsten Durkan, who told him about a fundraising campaign he’d launched. Durkan is the founder of Athletes Be Cause, an organization comprised of professional athletes who create fundraising campaigns to support a variety of humanitarian and environmental causes. Last year, Durkan helped organize a coastal cleanup event at Peahi (more commonly known as “Jaws”). There, he says he and other volunteers collected an inordinate amount of plastic debris, including single-use plastic water bottles.

The statistics speak for themselves: Every year in the U.S., an estimated 50 billion plastic bottles are used and then discarded, but only 23 percent are recycled. That means 38 billion plastic bottles (and more than $1 billion worth of plastic) wind up in the country’s landfills in the space of a year. In the days following the cleanup, Durkan says the images of the plastic trash piled high at Peahi were seared into his memory. “It really bothered me,” he said. “But I also felt motivated to do something about it.”

And that’s when a plan began to take shape.

In November, Durkan paid a visit to his alma mater, Haiku Elementary School. He knocked on the vice principal’s door and pitched his idea: He would replace the school’s antiquated and dilapidated water fountains with two brand new filtered water stations. That way, the school could provide clean drinking water while eliminating the need for single-use plastic bottles. Durkan says it didn’t take much convincing. “They were on board right away,” he said.

Durkan partnered with fellow big wave surfer and environmentalist Rob Machado, who agreed to supply reusable water canteens for all 489 students at Haiku Elementary School if Durkan could raise the funds for the two water stations (roughly $4,000 per station). He also met with Maui-based zipline company Skyline Eco-Adventures, which offered to match donations up to $10,000. Then, in January, he kicked off the campaign with a fundraising video filmed by Seeger, who says he was captivated by Durkan’s mission from the start. “I value athletes like Torsten who have a connection to nature and see the bigger picture,” he said. “This is how we can create lasting change.”

As for his fundraising strategy, Durkan decided to do it the best way he knows how: with his surfboard. Donors pledge a dollar amount per foot of the tallest wave Durkan rides between January and Saturday, April 22 (Earth Day). So, if a donor pledges $1 per foot and Durkan rides a 60-foot wave, they will be contributing $60 to the campaign. Seeger encourages everyone to make a pledge, even if it’s 50 cents a foot—because in the end, it all adds up, he said.

Durkan hopes to exceed the amount needed to purchase and install the two stations at Haiku Elementary School so he can outfit other elementary schools with filtered water stations. “I want to continue this trend,” he said. “I’d like to see this in every school in Hawaii.”

Seeger says the water stations and canteens are a very simple solution to a very big problem. In addition to the environmental impacts, he also notes the potential human health risks associated with single-use water bottles. Some types of plastic bottles contain chemicals (particularly, the hormone-disrupting Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is found in bottles marked with plastic code “7”) that could seep into the drinking water.

Seeger and Durkan hope the four-month-long campaign will encourage others to be more conscious of their purchases and consider adopting a plastic-free lifestyle. “We have a huge responsibility when it comes to what we leave behind for future generations,” Seeger said. “Just ask yourself: What side of history do you want to be on?”

To learn more about Athletes Be Cause or to make a pledge, visit athletesbecause.rallyup.com. To view Seeger’s video about Durkan’s anti-plastic fundraising campaign, visit www.vimeo.com/199425820.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – March 4, 2017

The stars were out in full force at the Historic Iao Theater on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. That’s when a group of Realtors® Association of Maui members took the stage to sing, dance and joke their way into the winner’s circle at the fifth annual RAM’s Got Talent competition. This year’s event, titled “Best of RAM’s Got Talent,” featured nine contestants who showcased their talents on the Iao Theater stage. Their performances may have differed, but they all had one thing in common: each contestant was a first, second or third prize winner or ‘audience favorite’ from the past four years.

Moana Andersen of Equity One Real Estate won the top prize of the night. Accompanied by Savannah Hoke, Andersen 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.

In addition to the contestants’ performances, audience members were also treated to live music by the Natalie Nicole Band and an exclusive preview of Maui OnStage’s spring musical, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” directed by Lisa Teichner of KW Island Living, who also served as the evening’s emcee. And the fun and entertainment began long before the curtain rose: As they arrived guests were greeted by a team of interviewers on the red carpet; there were also “cigarette” guys and gals selling fun trinkets to add to the glitzy, Hollywood-esque ambience.

But the real stars of the evening were the beneficiaries of RAM’s Got Talent: Maui OnStage and RAM’s Realtors® Presidential Scholarship Program. Since it began in 1989, the Realtors® Presidential Scholarship Program has awarded more than $560,000 to high school seniors across Maui County, as well as past recipients of the scholarship. To be eligible for the scholarship award, students must be a soon-to-be graduating high school senior or a former recipient of the scholarship and they must be in the process of applying or reapplying to an accredited college or university. Funds for the scholarship program are raised through events like the Realtors® Presidential Scholarship Golf Event, RAM’s Installation Luncheon and the “RAM’s Got Talent” competition.

The second beneficiary of the “Best of RAM’s Got Talent” show was Maui OnStage, 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 up and running over the years and it has been recognized as one of the longest-running theater companies in the United States.

This year’s “Best of RAM’s Got Talent” event would not have been possible without the generosity of its sponsors: Mason-McDuffie Mortgage; Old Republic Title and Escrow; Coldwell Banker Island Properties; Bank of Hawaii; HomeStreet Bank; Elite Lending; Homes & Land Magazine; Castle & Cooke Mortgage; and Ray Chin, who took photos at the event.

It’s not too early to start planning (and practicing) for next year’s event. The RAM’s Got Talent committee is always looking for talented individuals who would like to be involved; all RAM members and affiliates are eligible to perform. For more information about RAM’s Got Talent, visit www.ramsgottalent.com. To learn more about RAM’s Realtors® Presidential Scholarship Program, contact Claudia Bustamente at (808) 270-4647 or Claudia@ramaui.com. To learn more about Maui OnStage at the Historic Iao Theater or to purchase tickets for Maui OnStage’s production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which runs March 3 through 19, visit www.mauionstage.com.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – February 25, 2017

When Roy Sakamoto was asked to join the Hale Makua Health Services board of directors 30 years ago, he knew he’d be in it for the long haul. “I started off helping the special events committee,” he said. “And I helped Hale Makua to be named the designated charity for the PGA Senior Tour’s Kaanapali Classic.”

Since then, Sakamoto, the president of Sakamoto Properties, has been actively involved with the organization: Over the past three decades, he’s served as a board member, board chair and currently serves as the board’s treasurer.

Sakamoto says he was inspired to give back to Hale Makua when he witnessed the compassionate care his mother received there. “My mother had dementia and was at Hale Makua Wailuku and then transferred to Hale Makua Kahului,” he said. “I was very impressed with the employees who tended to her. They would speak to her even though she was non-responsive.  They would come in her room and say ‘good morning, Mrs. Sakamoto,’ even though she would not answer. It was very, very touching.”

Hale Makua Health Services was founded in 1946 to house elderly Maui residents who required long-term care, but did not have the financial means to pay for it. Over the years, the nonprofit organization has worked to improve the health and well-being of those in its care through a range of compassionate and personalized services, including around-the-clock care and support at its Wailuku and Kahului facilities. Hale Makua Health Services is Maui’s largest provider of nursing home and health care for the elderly and is the only Eden Alternative-registered home in the state. Its long-term care communities are both Medicare and Medicaid certified.

“There are many facets to Hale Makua Health Services,” Sakamoto explained. “Besides our nursing home facilities in Wailuku and Kahului, we also offer the best home health agency on Maui, physical rehab, adult day care and a section of our Wailuku facility has been designated as a ‘care home’ for those that do not need full nursing home care. We are the only not-for-profit institutional nursing facility on Maui.”

Without question, Hale Makua Health Services is an essential piece of the healthcare puzzle—and now more than ever. “Healthcare on Maui is in a crisis. At any given time, there is a backlog of 35 or so patients at Maui Memorial Medical Center who do not need the critical care facilities there,” Sakamoto said. “Many could be discharged to Hale Makua for their post-acute care. Bottom line costs for the state are many times higher for patients in the hospital—versus having them in Hale Makua.”

We need to unclog this backlog, he said. “There are times when the hospital has to hold patients in the emergency room because there are no available beds,” Sakamoto said. “We are hopeful the Kaiser takeover of the hospital this year will help ease this strain on the continuum of care on Maui.”

Financial support for Hale Makua Health Services is crucial, as 85 percent of its residents are on Medicaid. “Medicaid does not reimburse us for the costs of supplying quality care for these residents,” Sakamoto explained. “In other words, we lose money on each resident on Medicaid. Also, we have a critical shortage of nursing help and have to fly in CNAs and others from off island, thereby running up our expenses of operations.”

The community can support Hale Makua Health Services in various ways—and one of the simplest ways is to pick up the phone and call state and county lawmakers. “We need legislative help in keeping Hale Makua Health Services viable,” Sakamoto said. “Assistance from the County of Maui and from the state of Hawaii are essential for our fiscal needs—both the county and the state have been very generous in the past and we look forward to their continued support. Please contact Hale Makua through our website to see what legislative actions are pending that would assist us… and then contact the legislators who are involved in the legislation. Currently, we need support for Senate Bill 308 and Senate Bill 374.”

And there are other ways to help. You can make a donation or sign up to volunteer at Hale Makua’s Wailuku or Kahului facilities by visiting www.halemakua.org.

“Supplying quality care is foremost for Hale Makua Health Services,” Sakamoto said. “And it always has been in our 70 years of existence.”

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – February 11, 2017