When Jeannie Kong arrived at the Four Seasons Resort Maui for the 50th annual Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) installation ceremony on Friday, Sept. 7, she had no idea she was part of the day’s agenda.

In fact, when Kong heard her name announced as the 2018 Realtor Salesperson of the Year, she says it took her a few moments to process what had just happened. “My reaction that day was of utter surprise—it was sort of like a dream,” she said.

That day, Kong, along with 2018 Realtor Broker of the Year Rachel Ball Phillips and 2018 Affiliate of the Year Eric Miyajima, were honored by RAM for their business and real estate accomplishments, as well as their spirit, character, professionalism and volunteer work.

Kong’s real estate career began in 2006, and somewhat unexpectedly. At the time, she was working as an interior designer and had an online store. “It was a very busy time in the real estate world [and] I had some properties that I wanted to sell,” she recalled. “I was always involved in real estate, from investments to scouting locations for companies, and when I was in my early 20s, I was an assistant to a vice president of a top commercial real estate firm in New York City. So it seemed natural for me to get a license to sell my properties. I thought I would just do it for myself—until my friends and acquaintances asked me to market or buy help them buy properties, as they knew my work ethic. So it grew from there. Real estate was a leap of faith, but I soon grew to love the creativity of it.”

Now, more than a decade later, Kong has forged a well-respected career as a Realtor Salesperson. “Real estate is an emotional business and being able to get to the core of people is quite fascinating,” she said. “I also love real estate because I love designing homes and being creative with the marketing. Each home is unique and bringing that value angle to the marketing campaign really excites me. There is so much joy to watch people excited about their Maui home or help a seller get top dollar.”

Over the years, Kong has contributed her time and talent to a number of worthy causes. Among other things, she’s served as the vice president of the Maui Memorial Medical Center Foundation’s board of directors, was elected as one of RAM’s directors-at-large and volunteered as a guardian ad litem (a person appointed by a court to protect the best interests of a child in a particular matter). “Volunteering has always been a part of my life,” she explained. “It was a requirement to graduate from high school and I never stopped since.”

Kong currently serves on RAM’s Member Services Committee and RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Committee. She’s also a volunteer for the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program (which collects furniture, school supplies and other items with the goal of improving the educational experiences and opportunities for Maui County’s public school students). “As a mother of four wonderful human beings, I saw firsthand the needs for students and teachers,” she said. “I also see a need to help students navigate the college prep process.”

Kong says making a positive difference in the lives of others is intensely rewarding. “I am a firm believer in giving more than you take. I feel the joy of giving back is a gift in and of itself,” she said. “On our island, what one gives has such a direct and immediate impact. I feel blessed to be here and have been able to raise my children here. I have never met a more giving group than our Maui Realtors.”

And that’s something Kong takes to heart. “Being a Realtor on Maui is especially unique, because not only are people attracted to the beauty of Maui, but also the lifestyle,” she said. “So live it and be the aloha. Take time to talk story, listen, be a good neighbor and enjoy our island every day. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – September 22, 2018

Twelve years ago, Realtor-Broker Robin Vega and a friend signed up to help out at a community event in their hometown of Lahaina.

That’s when she caught the volunteering bug. “I was inspired by the people of Lahaina and wanted to help make a difference,” she said.

Since then, Vega, owner of MegaVega Properties, has pitched in whenever and wherever she’s needed. Among other things, she’s been an ardent supporter of the LahainaTown Action Committee (LAC) and its year-round community events. “LAC does so much to support the community and the keiki,” she said.

LAC was established in 1988 by residents and business owners “to preserve the historic integrity, rekindle the small town atmosphere and promote the uniqueness of Lahaina.” Today, LAC is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that is primarily self-funded through membership dues, event revenue and promotional product sales, and is “a proactive, results-oriented, entrepreneurial nonprofit with widespread community support.”

LAC is perhaps best known for organizing large-scale, well-attended and well-publicized events (several have been covered by national and international media, as well as local and statewide media, including—and not limited to—the monthly Lahaina Second Friday town party; Lahaina Halloween Party; Fourth of July fireworks display; Banyan Tree birthday celebration; King Kamehameha Parade; Festivals of Aloha; Prince Kuhio Celebration; and the annual Golf Classic benefitting charitable organizations and Lahaina Junior Golf.

In addition to these events, LAC operates the Lahaina Visitor Center at the Old Lahaina Courthouse. It also serves as a liaison between West Maui residents, businesses and other organizations who are working to address the concerns of the community.

Vega has sponsored a number of LAC events and she’s volunteered at most of them. She’s a familiar face at events like the Lahaina Second Friday town party, Lahaina Halloween Party, the Banyan Tree birthday celebration, the Fourth of July festivities and the annual Golf Classic.

“Robin has been our biggest private sponsor for the last five years—not only financially, but also donating her time to all of LAC’s events,” said Lynn Donovan, former executive director of the LahainaTown Action Committee. “She never refused to help when we needed it. She’s a great friend to LAC and myself.”

In January, LAC honored Vega with its Volunteer of the Year award, acknowledging her hard work and dedication to the organization over the past 12 years. “Not only did MegaVega Properties support the efforts of LahainaTown Action Committee’s events and initiatives, Robin Vega personally gives her time volunteering at every Second Friday event, the Lahaina Golf Classic, Fourth of July in Lahaina, Halloween in Lahaina and the Lahaina holiday events,” said LahainaTown Action Committee board president Snehal Patel, when he presented the award to Vega. “Robin and her company are instrumental to the success of our organization and on behalf of the board of directors, we are very grateful. This is a long overdue recognition of Robin and MegaVega Properties.”

Vega says volunteering has no shortage of perks—and she has no plans to stop anytime soon. “I enjoy talking and mingling with the people of Lahaina, as well as the visitors,” she said. “They get so excited just to be here.”

That’s one of the many reasons why she hopes others will follow her lead and give back to their community in any way they can. “I would encourage anyone to volunteer and support your community,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see people and businesses thrive.”

If you’re ready to catch the volunteering bug, head down to Kamehameha Iki Park (525 Front St. in Lahaina) on September 15, 2018 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the 14th Annual LahainaTown Clean-up. Just bring a pair of gloves and a water bottle or canister; bags and water will be provided, as well as a free lunch by Pacific‘O.

To learn more about the LahainaTown Action Committee or to view a calendar of upcoming events, visit www.visitlahaina.com.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – September 15, 2018

A crowd of more than 250 gathered at the Maui Ocean Center on Saturday, Aug. 11 to show their support for Maui County’s public schools at the “Wishes with Fishes” fundraiser for the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program.

And they certainly made a big splash. The first-of-its-kind event raised more than $40,000 to improve the lives of students on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

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

Sorenson says she’s grateful to all of the Wishes with Fishes volunteers, attendees and sponsors. “To everyone who contributed to our inaugural fundraiser event at the Maui Ocean Center—mahalo nui loa. Their generous contributions will allow us to continue to assist Maui County public school teachers and students in giving needed school supplies, footwear, educational tools and equipment for another year. Since we try to honor requests for items all year long, it will help us provide more to assistance to more teachers—and even parents and grandparents—who may be struggling to get much-needed school supplies.”

Castle & Cooke Mortgage and Guild Mortgage were the event’s “turtle” sponsors, and Keawala‘i Congregational Church was the top-level “whale” sponsor. “The church has a phenomenal outreach program, so it was one nonprofit assisting another,” Sorenson said. “The Wishing Well coordinators and I were in tears when we heard of their generous donation. Their only directive was the funds were to be used to assist students and teachers in schools that have a high percentage of struggling families. According to the state Department of Education, 52 percent of all students in Hawaii are ‘economically disadvantaged.’ This means Maui County has at least 12,000 students who fall into this group. So, their directive was a match made in heaven.”

And will there be another Wishes with Fishes in the future? “Because of the wonderful support from the community as well as our own real estate family, I believe we will have another major fundraiser,” she said. “We will definitely continue our smaller school supplies drives, especially collecting monetary funds for needed school supplies, as they are still on sale.”

In the past, Wishing Well volunteers held annual school supplies drives at the entrance of the Kmart store in Kahului. But now that the store has closed its doors, Sorenson says donations are more important than ever—and every little bit helps. “Receiving funds allows us to purchase requested supplies all year long and, also, to have extra funds when special requests for specific education items come to us,” she explained. “We go to where the best deal can be found—on island or online. We feel the better the price, the more we can purchase and the more we can assist.”

In addition to pencils, paper and books, schools also need items that you might not normally think about—like an easy chair and clean area rug to create a reading nook, fans, gardening tools, headphones, antibacterial wipes and white board erasers. Other “wish list” items include new or gently used refrigerators for two science classrooms, an electric stove, office chairs, bookcases and file cabinets. For more information about the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program or to make a donation, visit www.ILoveMauiSchools.com, call RAM at 873-8585, ext. 0 or email Sorenson at whales@maui.net. You can also drop off donations at the RAM office, which is located at 441 Ala Makani Street in Kahului.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – September 8, 2018

Olympic diver Greg Louganis once said: “Never underestimate your ability to make someone else’s life better–even if you never know it.”

When the Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) inducts its new slate of officers and directors at its 50th annual installation luncheon on Friday, Sept. 7, it will simultaneously improve children’s lives. Apart from raising funds for RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund, RAM will earmark proceeds from this year’s event to help Ka Hale A Ke Ola (KHAKO) Homeless Resource Centers purchase a new playground for its facility in Wailuku.

At present, there is no playground at the shelter, but it is sorely needed: In 2017 alone, KHAKO provided more than 12,600 hours of service to children on the property.

During a recent tour of the Wailuku facility, RAM’s president-elect Gina Duncan and RAM’s chief staff executive David Belew noted the absence of a playground and decided to take action.

Duncan said she hopes to raise $50,000 or more to help KHAKO purchase a new playground. “This playground is a small step in helping the displaced children of Maui maintain a stable way of life and bring them a little measure of happiness,” she said. “This one act is one of many that we can achieve by working together to better our community, share our aloha, raise awareness, and help with housing concerns.”

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. “It’s been a dream to have a playground for our keiki at the Central shelter of Ka Hale A Ke Ola,” said KHAKO executive director Monique Yamashita. “The children that come to our shelter have experienced stress and trauma from being homeless, but a playground would help them to have joy and fun in their lives. A playground would also benefit the parents, who know the difficult times their children have faced and can witness them having fun.”

Thirty-two years ago, KHAKO opened the doors to its first facility in a renovated Catholic church on the edge of a cane field in Puunene. Today, it 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.

The process begins the moment a family or individual walks through the front door. They first meet with an in-house housing navigator who helps them craft a viable housing plan. Then they sit down with a housing specialist, who assists with the housing search and placement. Once a rental is secured, a housing retention specialist takes over and monitors the new living arrangement up to nine months to ensure everything goes smoothly.

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; Yamashita said 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 www.khako.org or call 242-7600.


By Sarah Ruppenthal
Published in The Maui News – September 1, 2018

It was a quiet day at the office for Wailea Realty Corp., a Boutique of Windermere Real Estate on Friday, June 8. That’s because 25 of its agents spent the day at the beach. But they weren’t playing hooky from work: They spent the day collecting rubbish along the Kahului Harbor shoreline as part of Windermere Community Service Day.

Every year, Windermere Real Estate offices throughout the Western U.S. close their doors for one day so brokers and agents can make a positive difference in their communities. The annual day of community service was conceived in 1984 after a group of real estate agents teamed up to give a local elementary school some much-needed TLC. Since then, on its designated Windermere Community Service Day, Windermere Real Estate has helped improve local communities in seven states through a variety of neighborhood-enhancing projects.

This year, Wailea Realty Corp., a Boutique of Windermere Real Estate partnered with the Pacific Whale Foundation to commemorate World Oceans Day on Friday, June 8. The theme of this year’s event was “encouraging solutions to plastic pollution and preventing marine litter.” The 25 agents from Wailea Realty Corp., a Boutique of Windermere Real Estate were among the 233 volunteers who took part in the beach cleanups, which were hosted by marine naturalists at Kahului Harbor and the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in North Kihei. Volunteers were given free cleanup kits and data collection sheets; the data will contribute to the Pacific Whale Foundation’s marine debris monitoring and removal program. Pacific Whale Foundation’s conservation commitment includes monitoring, collecting and reporting marine debris, which kills and injures wildlife, spreads invasive species, leaches pollutants and endangers human health.

At the end of the day, more than 13,600 pieces of trash were collected; 87 percent of those items were plastic. According to the Pacific Whale Foundation’s final tally, the top 10 items collected at the cleanup sites included pieces of plastic; cigarette butts; bottle caps; pieces of metal; food wrappers; paper and cardboard; pieces of glass; fishing lines, nets and ropes; Styrofoam; and plastic bags.

“Spending most of my life in the Hawaiian Islands has allowed me to really see that some of my favorite childhood hangouts are in dire need of cleanup,” said Realtor-Salesperson Christian Slocum. “Teaming up with the Pacific Whale Foundation was an easy choice to make and I’m glad we were able to make Kahului Harbor a little bit better for the residents of Maui. I’m looking forward to the next cleanup.”

Realtor-Salesperson Jai N. Jimenez agrees. “It was a great day to give back to our community by cleaning a part of Maui,” he said. “I grew up surfing and enjoying our beaches and it felt good to be part of a team that helped make a difference to keep our beaches clean and safe.”

This isn’t the first time the company has pitched in for a good cause. Among other things, it has donated $32,000 to the Assistance Dogs of Hawaii program; organized the Maui Monopoly tournament to raise funds for the Maui Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity; sponsored basketballMAUI (a nonprofit organization that helps youth develop their athletic abilities and character through the game of basketball); and brought world-renowned motivational speaker Nick Vujicic to Maui to share his message of hope and inspiration with island teens. And on last year’s Windermere Community Service Day, Wailea Realty Corp., a Boutique of Windermere Real Estate focused its efforts on the Kihei Youth Center; 29 of its agents cleaned and made repairs to the youth facility, and served lunch to 75 kids and staff members.

For more information about the Pacific Whale Foundation or this year’s World Oceans Day, visit www.pacificwhale.org/events/worldoceansday. To learn more about the annual Windermere Community Service Day, visit www.facebook.com/WindermereRealEstate.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – August 25, 2018

A few weeks from now, the hallways and classrooms of Hana High & Elementary School will come alive as students arrive to kick off the 2018-19 academic year.

And many of them will have the tools they’ll need to succeed—with a little help from the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset.

Hana is more than 50 miles away from Lahaina, but it is never far from these Rotarians’ minds. For the second consecutive year, the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset will hold a school supply drive for Hana High & Elementary School. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the entrance of the Lahaina Cannery Mall next to the Longs Drugs store; 100 percent of the donations collected will benefit students in Hana. “We recognize there is a need in the community to help families and teachers with the cost of school supplies for education,” said Heidi Dollinger of Island Sotheby’s International Realty, who serves as the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset’s 2018-19 president. Other Realtors Association of Maui members in the club include Katie Zimmerman and Nancy Montoya of KW Island Living and Kyoko Wills of Old Republic Title Holding Company.

Last year, the club collected $500 and eight boxes of school supplies for Hana’s students. “[They] are often forgotten when community service organizations host school supplies drives,” said Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset past president Joanne Laird. “The members of the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset are committed to assisting the children of this underserved school and community. We are hoping that our community will continue to help out the children in Hana who often can’t easily acquire their needed school supplies.”

The mission of the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset is to enhance the quality of life in West Maui and beyond by engaging in meaningful, achievable projects within Rotary International’s five avenues of service: club service, community service, international service, vocational service and youth service. The school supplies drive is one of several community service projects sponsored by the club. Among other things, the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset partners with Malama Maui Nui (a nonprofit organization that engages the community in litter prevention, recycling and beautification efforts across Maui County) to sponsor the “Third Saturday Recycling” event at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. At these events, residents can drop off old appliances, scrap metal, tires, car batteries, electronics and household recyclables. “The program began three years ago, and approximately 12 tons of recyclables have been collected each month,” Dollinger explained. “By giving Maui homeowners a place to dispose of and recycle these items, the program has reduced illegal dumping in rural areas and reduces the amount of waste in our landfill. We are looking for community volunteers, as well as sponsors, to support Malama Maui Nui in order to continue this event.”

If you can’t make it to the school supply drive on Aug. 4, the club’s youth service director, Erica Gale, will be collecting donations at Moku Roots, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the Lahaina Gateway Shopping Center, throughout the week. Checks can also be made out to the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset (with “school supplies” noted in the memo line) and mailed to P.O. Box 12861, Lahaina, HI 96761.

Dollinger says every donation will help make a difference this school year. “Our school supply drive serves the Hana school, one of the most remote and underserved schools on the island,” she said. “Giving these students the tools they need to learn by making a small contribution is something we can do to help.”

The Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset meets at the Royal Lahaina Resort’s Royal Ocean Terrace Restaurant & Lounge on the first, third and fifth Tuesday of every month. Social hour begins at 5 p.m., followed by a meeting from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.; Dollinger says guests are always welcome.

For more information about the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset’s school supply drive on Saturday, Aug. 4, or to inquire about donor, volunteer or membership opportunities, contact Dollinger at Heidi.LahainaSunset@gmail.com.


By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – August 18, 2018

Tyrone Spellman knows firsthand how important it is to have a place to call home: He’s had to move more than 20 times in the past two decades. “I know what it’s like to not feel safe, secure and stable—and I’m certainly not alone,” he said. “Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure.”

Spellman was one of several panelists who spoke during the third annual Maui County Landlord Summit on Wednesday, July 24, at the Maui Beach Hotel in Kahului. Property owners and property managers were invited to attend the free event, which was underwritten by RAM, to learn how they can reduce homelessness by making more rentals available to those who need them the most.

Finding safe and affordable housing on Maui is a significant hurdle for low-income and homeless individuals and families. While they may be approved for a subsidized housing program through a local nonprofit agency or have a Section 8 voucher, many face the difficulty of finding a landlord who will approve their rental application. With that in mind, RAM joined forces with the County of Maui, the Office of the Governor and several social service agencies for a third time to bring landlords and property managers into the same room as the agencies that assist Maui’s housing-challenged residents.

This year’s summit began with some encouraging news from Emma Grochowsky on behalf of Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness. For the second year in a row, she said, Hawaii’s homeless count has decreased statewide, according to the Point-in-Time count survey conducted by Bridging the Gap and Partners in Care, a homelessness coalition. The survey found that there was a nearly 10 percent decrease in homeless individuals statewide—from 7,220 in 2017 to 6,530 in 2018.

The announcement was followed by a series of moderated panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions featuring legal experts, landlords, tenants and representatives from agencies that provide financial support and other services to Maui’s housing-challenged residents.

In the first panel discussion of the day, RAM Government Affairs Director Lawrence Carnicelli and Legal Aid Society of Hawaii staff attorney Ben Pittenger answered audience members’ questions about landlord and tenant rights. A second panel discussion featured representatives from nine local social service agencies; they fielded a number of questions regarding the services their respective agencies provide. The third panel was composed of Maui landlords and tenants who shared their experiences.

Jessmine Kim was honored as this year’s “Housing Hero” by the Maui Homeless Alliance. The “Housing Hero” award is given to a landlord or property manager who actively works with social service agencies to find rentals for individuals and families who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Kim spent a decade on the mainland working as a senior associate with Coldwell Banker Real Estate before moving home to Hawaii three-and-a-half years ago to help out with her family’s business. Her family owns 15 different properties on Maui and a third of their portfolio is multifamily properties and residential homes. Kim has successfully housed a number of clients affiliated with HUD, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) and the Family Life Center. She was acknowledged for her willingness to help those in need and for maintaining partnerships with housing assistance programs.

At the end of the day, landlords and property managers left with the information and tools they need to make a difference. “If we have one landlord create one more relationship with any one of these services, this [summit] is a win,” Carnicelli said. “If we could get one more landlord to understand what all of these wonderful services are and get one more person housed, it’s a win for all of us.”

Participants in this year’s Maui County Landlord Summit included RAM, the Office of the Governor, Office of the Mayor, Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns, Maui Homeless Alliance, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, Family Life Center, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Mental Health Kokua, Women Helping Women, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Salvation Army, Asian Real Estate Association of America, Aloha Independent Living, Housing Choice Voucher Program, Steadfast Housing Development Corporation and Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – August 11, 2018

On Saturday, July 28, Gov. David Ige paid a visit to Maui and brought something special along with him: A commemorative message in recognition of the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program.

That afternoon, the governor presented the special message to Wishing Well founder Sarah Sorenson of Whale’s Tale Realty, Inc. and Wishing Well coordinators Jill Kaiser of Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers and Kim Delmore of Delmore Realty.

In his special message, Gov. Ige commended the program for “its continued work in empowering the students, teachers and public schools in Maui County. The state is committed to creating the next generation of thoughtful and compassionate citizens and leaders, and the efforts of Wishing Well brings Hawaii closer to making that goal a reality.”

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

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

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

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

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

The deadline to purchase tickets for the adults-only “Wishes with Fishes” fundraiser is Wednesday, Aug. 8. Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased online at www.ILoveMauiSchools.com or in person at the RAM office, which is located at 441 Ala Makani Street in Kahului.

For more information about the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program, to make a donation or to inquire about “Wishes with Fishes” event sponsorship or donor opportunities, visit www.ILoveMauiSchools.com or email ramcf@ramaui.com.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – August 4, 2018

It’s hard to believe that Sid Kirkland and Betsy Justice were practically strangers a decade ago. Today, the former coworkers are not only close friends—they are also bonded for life. “I’ll always have her back,” Kirkland said. “And she will always have mine.”

In 2008, Kirkland, now a Realtor-Broker with Maui Real Estate Advisors LLC, was working at real estate brokerage in La Quinta, Calif., when he learned that Justice needed a new kidney. She had been diagnosed with end-stage renal failure the previous year, and was undergoing dialysis (a lifesaving treatment that filters waste, excess fluid and toxins from the blood of patients with failing kidneys) while waiting for an organ transplant. “I was faced with possibly years of dialysis treatments just to keep me alive until I could be considered for a kidney transplant,” Justice explained. “Sid had just joined my real estate brokerage maybe two months before he stepped up and offered to help me by donating a kidney. We were business acquaintances, but not what I would call close friends at the time.”

One afternoon, Kirkland bumped into Justice at the office and said: “I’ll do it. You can have one of my kidneys.”

“I definitely caught her off guard,” he laughed. Justice says she was stunned. “I was blown away,” she admitted.

After rigorous testing to assess his suitability as a donor, doctors delivered the good news: Kirkland was a match. “That he was a match is nothing short of a miracle in and of itself,” Justice said.

The pair underwent surgery on Aug. 12, 2008, exactly one year after Justice received her diagnosis—and even more auspiciously, Kirkland’s birthday. The transplant was a success, and once he was fully healed, Kirkland says he didn’t feel any different. “I was just a pound lighter,” he joked. Contrary to what some may think, you can lead a normal, healthy life with a single kidney (in fact, an estimated one in 750 people is born with only one), and when one is removed, the remaining kidney will increase in size to compensate for the loss of its donated counterpart.

Ten years later, Justice is thriving with her new kidney. “There are really no words that could ever adequately express my gratitude. I mean, this is a guy who stepped up and literally gave me ‘a pound of flesh’ so that I could have a second chance at a healthy life,” she said. “His selfless gift changed everything for me—my ability to work and be productive and my freedom to travel and see the world. Anyone who knows me recognizes the importance of both in my life. There is no way that I can ever repay him, but my job from now on is to ‘pay it forward’ however I can. And by ‘it,’ I mean the spirit of kindness and compassion.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, of the 123,000 Americans now on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant, more than 101,000 need a kidney—but only 17,000 people receive one each year. Tragically, 12 people die waiting for a kidney every day. In Hawaii, one in seven people suffer from chronic kidney disease, compared to the national average of one in nine. Approximately 4,000 patients statewide require dialysis three times each week due to kidney failure, and there are 700 new Hawaii kidney dialysis patients every year.
That’s why Kirkland encourages others to consider becoming a living organ donor and give the ultimate gift to a family member, friend, colleague—or even a total stranger. “There is nothing more gratifying than knowing you are changing someone’s life,” he said.

Justice will be flying to Maui next month to visit Kirkland and celebrate the tenth anniversary of the transplant surgery. “Sid Kirkland is my hero, and his heart and compassion are boundless,” she said. “As is my gratitude for his amazing gift. The gift of life.”

To learn more about kidney disease in Hawaii, visit www.kidneyhi.org. For more information about becoming a living donor, visit www.kidney.org/transplantation/livingdonors or call the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii’s Living Donor Council at 589-5902.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – July 21, 2018

It might sound like a lofty goal, but Klaus Simmer of Coldwell Banker Island Properties is up for the task: He is working to improve the quality of life, both economically and socially, for thousands of Maui County residents. Eight years ago, Simmer joined the board of directors of Lokahi Pacific, an independent, private nonprofit housing and community development organization; he now serves as the board’s president.

“I enjoy working with a competent, focused team of people who bring their areas of expertise to the table to help the Maui community, as well as navigating and working with the various government agencies involved in fulfilling our mission,” Simmer said.

Since it was chartered under the laws of the State of Hawaii and incorporated in 1971, Lokahi Pacific has addressed critical needs in the community, including affordable housing, special needs rental housing and community facilities development.

In 1998, Lokahi Pacific developed the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Center on Main Street in Wailuku to provide much-needed office space for local nonprofit agencies under a unique low-cost, tri-party rental agreement (the project also includes a 20-unit residential component that provides affordable, long-term rental housing for residents with special needs). In 2007, Lokahi Pacific completed its second community facilities development project, the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Pono Center on Market Street. There, the organization provides low-cost incubator office spaces, training and conference rooms; a two-station fully equipped licensed commercial kitchen (which is available to the public); and a full-service restaurant space. Lokahi Pacific also operates seven affordable rental apartment complexes for chronically mentally ill, physically disabled and low-income residents.

And over the past 12 years, Lokahi Pacific has completed a number of affordable housing projects on Maui and Molokai, including the brand-new 16-home Mokuhau subdivision in Wailuku. “Where can you buy a fee-simple three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,180-square-foot living, two-story house for $380,000 on Maui? In this case, it was on Mokuhau Street in Wailuku,” Simmer said. “With enclosed garages of an additional 300 square feet and lot sizes from 3,200 square feet to 5,000 square feet, these houses appraised for $490,000 to $522,000 when sales closed on them earlier this year. Sixteen excited happy families now live in their own new homes in Happy Valley.”

Simmer says a friend encouraged him to join Lokahi Pacific’s volunteer board of directors in 2010. “After taking a closer look at the organization, I realized I could be helpful regarding Lokahi’s board governance, as well as the organization’s recovery from the 2008 economic meltdown,” he explained. “I was also interested in the real estate aspect of Lokahi’s operations. Finally, I understood the Maui community need for Lokahi’s services specifically as they relate to providing affordable housing, as well as housing for physically and mentally challenged people. My youngest sister is mentally handicapped and benefits immeasurably from living in a development/community in Germany that is focused on assisting people like her.”

Simmer credits Lokahi Pacific’s successes to its dedicated staff and executive director. “Lokahi Pacific nearly folded after the major economic shifts around 2008,” he said. “We’ve since recovered from insolvency thanks in great part to the focused and tenacious leadership of our executive director, Susie Thieman, whom we were fortunate enough to hire in 2012. She also has an awesome staff, many of whom have been with Lokahi even longer.”

Lokahi Pacific relies on federal, state, county and private grants and loans to fulfill its mission. “Please ask your council members to support Lokahi’s requests and endeavors to build more low-cost housing, as well as making property available for development of more low-cost housing,” Simmer said. “This is our community and we can all help and be involved in our own individual ways. We now have the opportunity to move forward with the development of 140 to 150 new affordable homes in association with the Maui Tropical Plantation and Mike Atherton in the Wailuku area if we can garner the support of the Maui County Council, as well as the county administration. We need community and council support to get this done. Maui urgently needs this—let’s make it happen!”

To learn more about Lokahi Pacific, visit www.lokahipacific.org.