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, email 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 To learn more about Susan G. Komen Hawaii, visit

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

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – November 17, 2018

The Lahaina Civic Center will come alive with the sounds of cheers, bouncing basketballs and sneakers squeaking on the hardwood floor when the Maui Jim Maui Classic, an NCAA Division I women’s college basketball tournament, tips off on Friday, Dec 14 and Saturday, Dec. 15. Now in its third year, the annual tournament will be hosted by basketballMAUI in partnership with the Oregon State women’s basketball team, which is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation. Texas A&M University (ranked No. 20) will also take the court, along with Eastern Washington University and University of California, Riverside. “As far as I know, Maui has never hosted two nationally ranked women’s teams to compete against each other, which is very exciting for basketball fans on the island,” said basketballMAUI founder Ben Prangnell.

And there will be plenty of excitement off the court, too. While they’re here on Maui, these college athletes will pay a visit to several elementary schools to underscore the winning combination of academics and athletics. “The mission of the tournament is to inspire Maui youth in their educational and athletic aspirations,” Prangnell explained. “Each team will be visiting some of our local elementary schools to participate in read-alouds with the children and spend time sharing their athletic and educational journeys and the importance of reading and education.”

It’s something Realtors® Association of Maui members Lydia Pedro and Alana Rucynski of the Top Maui Homes team of Wailea Realty Corp. have been looking forward to all year. Both serve on basketballMAUI’s board of directors; they have been involved with the all-volunteer, donor-funded 501(c)3 nonprofit organization since its inception in 2010.

basketballMAUI’s mission is to give youth an opportunity to prepare for success, both on and off the court. Every year, thousands of public and private school students participate in basketballMAUI’s summer camps, clinics and school assemblies, which are focused on basketball skills and athletic, character and leadership development. And the best part? No child has ever been excluded from basketballMAUI’s programs for lack of financial resources. In June, hundreds of youth ages 7 to 18 took part in the 9th annual weeklong basketballMAUI camp at the War Memorial Gym in Wailuku. Former and active college basketball players and coaches of all stripes (including NCAA Division I coaches) guided campers through position-specific training, personal training, life skills development and challenge groups, placing an emphasis on enthusiasm, leadership and teamwork.

“None of this would be possible without our local sponsors and volunteers to which we are so grateful,” Prangnell said. One of those sponsors is Wailea Realty Corp. A Boutique of Windermere Real Estate. “Lydia and Alana’s support alongside the Wailea Realty team since our inception has been one of the pillars to continue to see our impact and support of Maui youth grow,” he said.

Pedro has seen firsthand the positive impact of basketballMAUI and encourages all residents to consider attending this year’s Maui Jim Maui Classic. “The reason I think that people should come to this event is that these women are here to support our kids by visiting them at school, reading to them and being good role models,” she said. “We need to support them as they support our kids.”

Rucynski agrees wholeheartedly. “People should come to the Maui Classic because these ladies of college basketball have some major skills!” she said. “Their athleticism on the court is amazing and their hearts for our keiki when they visit our schools is so amazing.”

And you don’t have to be a basketball aficionado to enjoy the two-day tournament. “This is a great family-friendly weekend for all to enjoy,” Rucynski said.

Tickets for the 2018 Maui Jim Maui Classic are on sale now. Tickets are $10 per person per day. A portion of the proceeds will benefit participating elementary school libraries, basketballMAUI’s sports programs and other local nonprofit organizations. There will be two action-packed games on each day, food trucks, opportunities to win a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses, and a chance to win a luxury staycation package at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. To purchase tickets, visit For more information about basketballMAUI and its programs, visit To inquire about future sponsorship or donor opportunities, email Pedro at

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – November 10, 2018

In 1901, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist and neurologist, examined a patient with a mystifying case of progressive memory loss. He determined that she had a pathological form of dementia—what we now know to be Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, Alzheimer’s is classified as a degenerative disease of the brain and the most common form of dementia (according to the Alzheimer’s Association, it accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases). Symptoms develop gradually and worsen over time, eventually becoming so severe that they interfere with daily life. And while the majority of sufferers are 65 and older, it is not a disease reserved solely for the elderly. There are less common forms that appear earlier in adulthood; in fact, the Alzheimer’s Association says up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s, with many diagnosed in their 40s and 50s. An estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s, and tragically, the outlook is grim: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the disease as the nation’s sixth leading cause of death for adults (and the fifth leading cause of death for adults ages 65 years and older). While there are treatments that can temporarily delay the symptoms, there is currently no cure. That may change soon, though, as there is a vigorous effort underway to change the trajectory of the disease.

Joanne Foxxe of Kapalua Realty knows firsthand the destructive nature of Alzheimer’s: two people close to her are grappling with the disease. “If there was a cure now…it surely would give me peace of mind,” she said.

That’s why she took part in this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the world’s largest event to elevate awareness and raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association and its mission-related initiatives of care, support and research. The Alzheimer’s Association has chapters nationwide (including the Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter in Hawaii) and actively works to eliminate the disease through advancements in research. The nonprofit organization also aims to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain-healthy lifestyles, and facilitates workshops, support groups and one-on-one consultations for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

As one of more than 600 events taking place across the country this fall, the Maui Walk to End Alzheimer’s was held on Saturday, Oct. 20. The two-mile walk started at the Boys & Girls Clubs Central Clubhouse in Wailuku and meandered through nearby Keopuolani Park. “It wasn’t a long walk—it was easy, with water and cheering along the way,” Foxxe said. “There was great participation by the schools, which was wonderful to see.” There was also live music and entertainment, an awards ceremony, and a “promise garden” filled with personalized forget-me-not flowers. Most importantly, all of the money raised at this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s will further the Alzheimer’s Association’s care, support and research efforts.

Foxxe encourages everyone to consider lacing up their sneakers next year. She’s already gearing up for the 2019 event. “Next year, I am committed to making the event even bigger,” she said. “I want to put my own team together and raise more money than I did this year.” (Foxxe was one of the top individual fundraisers for 2018 and was inducted into the Alzheimer Association’s exclusive Grand Champions Club.)

And if you do take part in next year’s event, every step you take will bring researchers closer to wiping out this terrible disease. “There are 28,000 Hawaii residents affected by this disease and 66,000 caregivers,” Foxxe said. “That’s why I’m motivated to find a cure.”

For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter, visit or call 591-2771. There’s also a 24/7 helpline that gives callers immediate guidance, emotional support and crisis intervention: 1-800-272-3900. The 2018 walk may be over, but Foxxe is still collecting donations; you can send a check payable to the Alzheimer’s Association to: Joanne Foxxe, c/o Kapalua Realty, 700 Office Rd., Lahaina, HI 96761.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – November 3, 2018

Ten thousand people. That’s how many men, women and children are served by the Maui Food Bank every month.

Through its network of more than 120 partner agencies and programs, the nonprofit organization collects and distributes food to individuals, families, children and youth, seniors, the homeless—anyone who is at risk of going hungry.

That’s why Debbie Arakaki stepped up to help.

In 2014, Arakaki, a REALTOR®-Broker with Elite Pacific Properties, hosted a fundraiser for the Maui Food Bank during a brokers open. It was so successful that she decided to do it again the following year—and the year after that. The three events raised $12,000, $18,000, and $22,000, respectively.

This year, Arakaki and her colleagues raised more than $23,000 for the Maui Food Bank—all in a single evening. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of our community supporters like Beau Petrone of A Sound Mind Home Inspection, Bank of Hawaii, and our generous matching donors like the Donegan Burns Foundation and others,” she said.

Arakaki says she was inspired to help the Maui Food Bank after reading an article about its Aloha BackPack Buddies program, which provides healthy weekend meals to elementary school children from food-insecure homes throughout the academic year. Children who are on their school’s free and reduced meal program can pick up a prefilled backpack on Friday afternoons; it contains six nutritional meals they can take home with them. “Having owned restaurants for 20 years, I have always made sharing food a part of our culture,” she explained. “It tugged at my heart that we have so many children who go hungry.”

More than 80 people attended this year’s fundraiser, which was held on Thursday, Sept. 13, at a home in Launiupoko as the culmination of a brokers’ caravan of properties in the area. “With the funds raised, we can supply 4,645 backpacks filled with food for all of the West Maui schools that participate in the program for the entire school year,” Arakaki said. “We also had enough to target the neediest schools in Kihei and Central Maui to feed their kids for the entire year.”

Clearly, Arakaki knows how to throw a good party: There was catered food, a teppanyaki food truck and an ATV valet service to transport guests up and down the long driveway. “It was a lot of fun,” Arakaki said. “The beautiful grounds of the majestic Maui home in Launiupoko set the tone with the fire pit roaring, the tiki torches blazing. It was just a perfect evening of fun, food, conversations, laughter…and an all-around great time.”

She credits the success of the event to her industry colleagues who stepped up to the plate to help her pull it all together. “We had people from Bank of Hawaii, Fidelity National Escrow and Title and Luxury Home Magazine helping with greeting and taking in donations and money for our prizes and gift certificates from Trilogy Excursions, Lahaina Grill and more. The Elite Pacific Properties agents helped create a fantastic dessert table and my husband, Gary, tended the bar with our homemade fresh lime margaritas. Mary Anne Fitch donated all of the wine that poured freely through the night. We had DJ Eliza Vasquez jamming on the music. Special thanks to the behind-the-scenes crew of my kids, Ryan and Casey, and also Reta Chin-Chiarella.”

Arakaki says she will continue her efforts to stock the shelves at the Maui Food Bank and fill backpacks for the Aloha BackPack Buddies Program. And she encourages others to do what they can to help, too. “It is a rewarding and fun thing to do,” she said. “It feels so good to be able to help so many of Maui’s hungry families.”

You can provide hunger relief for those in need by making a monetary donation or holding a food drive at your business, school, place of worship, community service club or in your neighborhood anytime of the year. To learn more about the Maui Food Bank or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit or call 243-9500.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – October 27, 2018

If you’ve ever wondered if all-star cheerleading is a sport, consider this: Can you toss another human being more than 15 feet into the air? Can you do a backflip from a standstill? Or a cartwheel—without your hands ever touching the floor?

All-star cheerleaders can.

But if that doesn’t convince you, in 2016, the International Olympic Committee voted to recognize competitive cheerleading as a sport and gave it provisional Olympic status.

“Yes, all-star cheerleading is a sport,” said Stacey Lee Vinoray. “It’s extremely competitive and requires a lot of hard work, athleticism, dedication, commitment and money. You have two minutes and thirty seconds on the mat to show everything you’ve got.”

Vinoray, a REALTOR® with NextHome Pacific Properties, knows the benefits of cheerleading firsthand. The former high school cheerleader signed on to be a volunteer coach for Maui Cheer Allstars ten years ago, and since then, she’s worked alongside her cousin, Marilyn Valencia, the owner and co-director of the Lahaina-based cheerleading squad. “I volunteered to help because cheer and dance are my passions,” Vinoray explained.

And it’s not her first foray into coaching; she’s also a volunteer cheer coach at her alma mater, Lahainaluna High School. “I have been involved with supporting Lahainaluna High School cheerleading since 2002, when I first became a REALTOR®,” she said. “Since then, I have been a part of a number of all-star teams: Maui Cheer Allstars, Cheer808 Maui, Maui Cheer Academy and Maui Cheer Force.”

Maui Cheer Allstars is a non-school-affiliated, competitive cheer team. Its mission is to “teach fundamentals of all-star cheerleading while promoting discipline, dedication and teamwork in a fun environment.”

And the squad has certainly made its mark.

“We may be small in numbers, but we have big hearts,” Vinoray said. “To date, we have won 24 national championships, 17 international championships, two grand championships, and ranked tenth in the Inaugural U.S. D2 Summit.”

There are thousands of all-star cheer programs nationwide. Far from the traditional sideline cheerleading you see at football and basketball games, all-star teams compete in local, national and international competitions where they perform two-and-a-half minute routines featuring gravity-defying stunts, jumps, tumbling, pyramids, basket tosses and dance moves. Similar to gymnastics, judges score routines based on their level of difficulty, precision, creativity and entertainment value.

Vinoray clearly relishes her role as a coach. “Helping to minister the importance of decision-making, having faith in themselves, gaining confidence and learning to work together as a team toward building a stunt or pyramid or learning choreography—it’s super fun and exciting,” she said. “The team, the parents, the coaching staff—everyone gives the best of themselves, and having that be a part of your daily life is amazing. I feel I get more from coaching than I could ever give.”

Maui Cheer Allstars is now gearing up for a competition on Oahu in February with the hopes of securing a bid for an invitation to the D2 Summit, which will be held May 11-13 in Orlando, Florida. “We have a number of upcoming fundraisers in the works, so if you’re approached by anyone from Maui Cheer Allstars, please kokua if you can,” Vinoray said. “We are grateful for our Maui Cheer Allstars Ohana and the entire community for always supporting us in our travels. And special shout out to our coaching staff: Marilyn Valencia, Mary Ann Corpuz, Anuhea Doran, Charlie Perreira and Kahaia Lilikoi.”

Vinoray encourages others to consider volunteering. “Get involved in your community,” she said. “Support the schools and nonprofits because they fill in the gaps where our government is unable to provide for our keiki and our kupuna.” Quoting Mahatma Ghandi, Vinoray said, “‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’”

To learn more about Maui Cheer Allstars or to find out how you can support the squad in its fundraising efforts, email or visit

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – October 20, 2018

When the Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) inducted its new slate of officers and directors at its 50th annual installation event on Friday, Sept. 7, it simultaneously made a difference in the lives of Maui County youth.

In addition to the proceeds from the event, $26,000 was raised for RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund through Mea Kako‘o, a sponsorship group established in 2017 to further benefit the scholarship fund.

RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund has awarded $681,000 in scholarships to college-bound high school seniors throughout Maui County (as well as past recipients of RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund) since its inception in 1989. Funds for the scholarship program are raised through events like RAM’s installation event, 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.

RAM members also raised $29,200 to help Ka Hale A Ke Ola (KHAKO) Homeless Resource Centers purchase a new playground for its facility in Wailuku. The playground is sorely needed: Last year alone, KHAKO provided more than 12,600 hours of service to children on the property.

“Change, especially to a child in the circumstances of being homeless, can be frightening,” said 2018-19 RAM President Gina Duncan, who spearheaded the KHAKO playground fundraiser after touring the Wailuku facility over the summer. “The new playground can provide a measure of comfort and stability for these children. I’m proud that our Realtor ohana is a giving and compassionate group and was able to raise funds at our annual installation event to build a playground for the children.”

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 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.

And housing concerns are top of mind for RAM, which chose “Aloha in Our Community…Housing for Everyone” as the theme to guide the organization forward through 2018-19. Additionally, “housing concerns” was recently added as an objective of the RAM Community Foundation. The Foundation was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2007, and since then, has provided academic scholarships to Maui County students and assisted public schools countywide through the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program.

The fundraiser for the KHAKO playground is the Foundation’s first housing concerns-related initiative—and it will have an immeasurable impact. “Maui’s homeless, interim housing and affordable housing concerns need everyone’s help at this critical juncture,” Duncan said. “This playground is one small step toward improving the lives of Maui keiki.”

KHAKO provides thousands of meals to its residents every year and volunteers are always needed to prep, cook and serve food at its Central and West Side facilities. KHAKO also seeks monetary donations and contributions of goods or services; immediate needs include a passenger van, walk-in freezer, sheets, blankets, towels, unused pillows, and small dining sets.

To learn more about KHAKO or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit or call 242-7600. For more information about RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund, visit

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – October 13, 2018

It was a day full of surprises.

On Friday, Sept. 7, the Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) honored three of its members during its annual installation ceremony at the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea. Those members were 2018 Affiliate of the Year Eric Miyajima, 2018 Realtor Broker of the Year Rachel Ball Phillips and 2018 Realtor Salesperson of the Year Jeannie Kong. All three were recognized by RAM for their business and real estate accomplishments, as well as their spirit, character, professionalism and volunteer work.

Like his fellow honorees, Miyajima, vice president and residential loan manager with American Savings Bank, was in a state of disbelief when he heard his name announced that day. “I’ve been to many installation events over the years,” he said. “I never expected them to call my name.”

Miyajima was born in Puunene and is a proud Baldwin High School alumnus. As a kid, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and learn how to play golf. Needless to say, the sport was a good fit for Miyajima, who quickly proved his mettle on the course as a scratch golfer (according to the U.S. Golf Association, a scratch golfer is “a player who can play to a course handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses. A male scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 250 yards and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots at sea level.”)

After high school, Miyajima headed east to attend the University of Utah, where he played college golf. Not long after earning a degree in business administration, he returned to Maui. It didn’t take long for him to get back into the swing of things—he began coaching high school golf at his alma mater, joined the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association’s board of directors and established the Maui Junior Golf Association (he served as its president for nearly three decades).

Founded in 1960, the Maui Junior Golf Association promotes and fosters the game of golf to youth of all ages and skill levels while eliminating barriers—financial or otherwise. Among other things, the Maui Junior Golf Association teaches youth the fundamentals and etiquette of the game; provides opportunities for leadership development; promotes competition through golf tournaments; and reinforces the values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship and fellowship. The organization also offers a scholarship program for high school seniors who have excelled academically while actively participating in the game of golf.

It goes without saying that Miyajima has made an indelible mark on the scholarship program. Over the years, he’s helped hundreds of young men and women land scholarships to colleges and universities across the country. Among other things, he has organized golf tournaments and invited college scouts to attend; contacted recruiters on behalf of players; and gone the extra mile (in some cases, literally) to recommend student-athletes for full-ride golf scholarships. It was no small feat, but Miyajima says the time and effort was 100 percent worth it, because he was giving these students an opportunity to succeed—both on and off the golf course.

Miyajima entered the mortgage industry nearly four decades ago, and since then, he’s cultivated a thriving career. He’s assisted thousands of local families with home financing, sharing his depth of experience in affordable mortgage lending, conventional loans, government lending and investment property lending. Miyajima says the greatest reward is seeing his clients achieve their dreams of homeownership—particularly first-time buyers. “It’s a really good feeling,” he said.

As good as a hitting a hole-in-one?

“Definitely,” he said.

To learn more about the Maui Junior Golf Association, visit or email

By Sarah Ruppenthal
Published in The Maui News – October 6, 2018

There’s nothing quite like the element of surprise.

Just ask Rachel Ball Phillips, who says she was in a state of disbelief when she heard her name announced as the 2018 Realtor Broker of the Year at the 50th annual Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) installation luncheon on Friday, Sept. 7.

“It was a complete surprise that I was going to be receiving the award and very surreal to be sitting there listening to Jeannie [RAM’s 2017 Realtor Broker of the Year Jeannie Wenger] describing this year’s recipient in abstract terms…and coming to the realization that she was talking about me,” Phillips said.

That day, three honorees—Phillips, 2018 Realtor Salesperson of the Year Jeannie Kong and 2018 Affiliate of the Year Eric Miyajima—were recognized by RAM for their business and real estate accomplishments, as well as their spirit, character, professionalism and volunteer work. “I was really honored to receive this award,” she said. “It’s not about sales production, but recognition of leadership and service to the real estate profession. To me, it’s the highest real estate honor that I could receive.”

It’s safe to say that Phillips, a Realtor Broker with her family’s company, Carol Ball and Associates, has real estate in her DNA. “I am a second generation Realtor,” she explained. “My dad, Richard Ball, now retired, was a Realtor, and my mom, Carol Ball, and brother, Keone Ball, are also Realtors. My mom started our family business back in 1980, and when I turned 18 years old I dutifully got my real estate license.”

At the time, though, Phillips says she wasn’t interested in becoming a Realtor and opted to work as a construction estimator and project coordinator instead. But after her first son was born 17 years ago, she transitioned from construction to real estate. Nearly two decades later, Phillips has made her mark in the industry and credits her family’s support for her successes. “I have been very fortunate to have a very supportive husband who has always been there to help out,” she said, “and one of the best teachers on the island to mentor me—my mom, Carol Ball.”

And what is the most rewarding part of her job? “I really enjoy helping people fulfill their dream of owning a home, especially first-time homebuyers,” she said. “Buying a home is not only a major financial decision, but also a very emotional process for many people. It is very rewarding to be able to guide people through the home-buying journey and share the joy with them when they are finally able to move into their own home.”

Over the years, Phillips has contributed her time and talent to a number of worthy causes, including volunteering for several local organizations and serving on the Maui County Board of Variances and Appeals and the Maui County Board of Ethics. She’s also a member of the Kiwanis Club of the Valley Isle (Kiwanis International is a global community of clubs, members and partners dedicated to improving the lives of children). “The local clubs work independently and together to organize numerous service projects throughout the year,” she said. “Our projects this year have included food distribution for Feed My Sheep and providing backpacks and school supplies for preschool students through Project Backpack.”

And helping others is part of her family’s legacy. “My grandparents and parents were always very active in the community, and now my brother and I continue that tradition,” Phillips said. “We have been very blessed and feel that it is important to give back to and be active participants in the community in which we live.”

That’s why Phillips encourages others to consider giving back in any way they can. “We all have something to give and there is always someone in need of help,” she said. “I encourage anyone who is not currently involved in any kind of community service to find some way to get involved. If we all work together one small bit at time, we can make our Maui community the best it can be.”

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – September 29, 2018