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

On Sunday, Aug. 19, swimmers ages 12 and up will hit the water for a good cause during the third annual Sophie Swim, a 2K open water race from Kaanapali’s Kahekili Beach Park to Black Rock and back. Now in its third year, the event—the only one of its kind on Maui—will raise funds for the Sophie DeLoria Foundation, which supports local organizations that focus on swimming, dance and music. The foundation was established by Sue DeLoria of KW Island Living and her husband, JD, in memory of their daughter, Sophie, who lost her life in a tragic accident at the age of 8.

So far this year, the Sophie DeLoria Foundation has donated to the Lahaina Swim Club, Maui Music Mission, Lahaina Arts Society, Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Maui OnStage at the Historic Iao Theater, West Maui Boys & Girls Club, Friends of Lahainaluna High School Music, Lahaina Canoe Club and Holy Innocents Preschool. The foundation also awarded scholarships to two Lahainaluna High School graduates, Mihana Ho and Eva Olson, both student-athletes heading off to college in the fall.

The Sophie Swim is the foundation’s major fundraiser and DeLoria says it is the perfect way to honor her daughter’s memory. “Sophie above all else liked to include everybody, whether it was games she organized in the schoolyard or having friends over for sleepovers. She also loved to swim and loved to race in swim meets. [Lahaina Swim Club] Coach Tom nicknamed her ‘NBS,’ ‘Nobody Beats Sophie,’ after one epic swim practice, and Coach Jen called Sophie our ‘Go Get ‘Em Girl,’” she explained. “We were able to give her lots of opportunities: swim club, ballet, ProArts theatre and going to the Iao Theater or the MACC. It seemed only natural to help other kids have those same opportunities. It’s something I know Sophie would have loved—and would have wanted us to do.”

DeLoria came up with the idea for the event three years ago while swimming with a friend in the waters off Kahekili Beach Park. That day, she spotted a group of kids—members of the Lahaina Swim Club—racing toward Black Rock. “They flew past us,” she recalled. “The coach had given them a break from pool training. They were having a lot of fun. That’s when I thought, ‘this is a good idea.’” A few weeks later, after a flurry of phone calls and emails, the inaugural Sophie Swim made its debut with more than 140 participants.

DeLoria credits the success of the annual Sophie Swim to those who volunteer each year—on and off the water—as well as the many businesses that donate gift certificates, activities and merchandise. “Every year, I am reminded of how generous people are,” she said.

And DeLoria says this year’s Sophie Swim is guaranteed to bring out the competitive spirit. “We have a good rivalry between two of our youth swimmers who have competed in the previous two events, so we are looking forward to that race,” she said. “And for our more mature age groups, there are some pretty competitive swimmers and some new entrants from the mainland that I am looking forward to meeting.”
Registration is now underway. There are 40 divisions for competitors ages 12 and up; awards will be given to the winners and runners-up of each division. Race day registration starts at 7 a.m. at the Kahekili Beach Park pavilion. The youth race for swimmers ages 12 to 17 begins at 8 a.m., followed by the adult race at 8:15 a.m. Swim caps are mandatory (and will be provided).
Kahekili Beach Park is privately owned and maintained by the Kaanapali North Beach Masters Association at their sole expense. This beach park property and its facilities are made available to the public for primarily casual park uses and beach access; subject to signage at the park which clearly states rules and regulations for use and enjoyment of the facilities during posted hours only and strictly prohibiting commercial uses.

“Definitely come and race—or come as a spectator. It’s a fun event for the whole family,” DeLoria said. “We hope to see you in the water!”

To register, visit To receive updates and to view photos and videos of past events, “like” the Sophie Swim Facebook page at To inquire about donor or sponsorship opportunities, contact DeLoria at 250-5948 or For more information about the Sophie DeLoria Foundation, visit


By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – July 7, 2018

Caron Barrett and Deborah Vial of KW Island Living’s The Girls’ Island Properties are no strangers to the spotlight. They have been performing together in the Deborah Vial Band for nearly two decades—Vial is the lead singer, Barrett plays guitar and manages the band.

“I used to own a record label and Deborah was on my label; she had a great career singing in Dallas and I had a band,” Barrett said. “My singer had to leave for family reasons, so Deborah and I started playing together around 2001.”

When the couple decided to move from Dallas to Maui in 2004, they considered leaving the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle behind them. “When we came to Maui, we were just so tired from touring and performing on the mainland,” Barrett explained. “We didn’t know how or where we were going to fit into the music scene here.”

But it didn’t take long for them to figure it out.

All it took was an invitation to perform at the Maui AIDS Foundation’s annual Mardi Gras Gala. It would be the first of many fundraising performances for a long list of worthy causes—too many to count, Barrett says. But she and Vial haven’t lost track of the most important thing: the intense joy that comes from helping others. “Deborah and I have been very fortunate and we feel like it is our karmic and civic duty to give back,” Barrett said. “We love to help others and see how it can improve their lives.”

And earlier this year, their passion for helping others grew exponentially.

After unwinding a trust she’d set up in 1998, Barrett sat down with Vial to map out a plan 20 years in the making: They would apportion the funds—which totaled over $650,000—to 33 nonprofit organizations on the mainland and in Hawaii. “We were so excited to have the opportunity to do this,” Barrett said. “From the very beginning, our goal was to inspire others to give back.” The couple met with an attorney, who helped them navigate the legal intricacies and come up with a list of conditions. For one thing, all of the beneficiaries had to be 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations and in good standing for a period of five to 10 years.

After a weeks-long vetting process, Barrett and Vial came up with a list of 18 Oahu- and Maui-based beneficiaries; they divvied up more than $325,000 among them. The diverse roster included the Maui Chamber Orchestra; Trinity Episcopal Church by-the-Sea; Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui; A Cup of Cold Water; Maui Food Bank; Aloha BackPack Buddies; Maui Pride; Maui AIDS Foundation; Maui Academy of Performing Arts; Maui Arts & Cultural Center; Maui Humane Society; Maui Adult Day Care Centers; Grow Some Good; Maui OnStage; Mana‘o Radio; Hawaii Public Radio; Ronald McDonald House Charities- Hawaii; and the Epstein Family Foundation.

For many of these nonprofits, the generous donation came out of the blue—so much, in fact, that some held impromptu board meetings to figure out what to do with the funds. “I think we took a few of them by surprise,” Barrett laughed.

She and Vial encourage others to give back to their community in any way they can. “I know we can all turn on the TV and see suffering and people needing help all over the planet,” Barrett said. “But starting in your own backyard is the best way to help. So many here on Maui need our help. Even if you only have $10, that is a huge thing for say, the Aloha BackPack Buddies program—it could buy a good amount of food for a kiddo. We really want to inspire people who live here full time, people who are part-timers, and people who are visiting to do a little good for an island you love so much.”

To learn more about the Deborah Vial Band, visit or


By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – June 30, 2018

Mark your calendars: 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. The 21-and-over event will feature a buffet dinner, silent auction and live music by acclaimed slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson, the Natalie Nicole Band 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.

But the best part? As you dine and dance surrounded by sharks, rays and hundreds of fish, you’ll be making a difference in the lives of thousands of students.

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 collected and contributed more than $1.65 million in goods, services and cash donations to Maui County’s public schools.

Yes, you read that right: $1.65 million.

“Because of our high cost of living, our teachers are the most underpaid in the nation, yet they are constantly reaching into their own pockets to purchase items for their classrooms—on average, our teachers spend $1,000 of their own money for educational material and supplies for their classrooms, as well as for their students,” Sorenson said. “We help them get much-needed supplies, teaching materials and furniture, all to augment their instructional needs for themselves and their students.”

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.

One-hundred percent of the money raised at the “Wishes with Fishes” fundraiser on Aug. 11 will go directly to 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.

Tickets for the adults-only “Wishes with Fishes” fundraiser are $100 per person and can be purchased online at or in person at the RAM office, which is located at 441 Ala Makani Street in Kahului. Donations are needed year-round and many teachers have requested items that would help them in their classrooms, like bookcases, gardening tools for school gardens, file cabinets, chairs or clean area rugs so students can gather for learning or quiet time. If you’re looking to offload any new or gently used household (no appliances) or office items, call Sorenson at 283-3969.

For more information about the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program, to make a PayPal donation or to inquire about “Wishes with Fishes” event sponsorship or donor opportunities, visit or email


The Maui News – June 23, 2018

For the third year in a row, RAM, in partnership with the County of Maui, the Maui Homeless Alliance, the Governor’s Office and several social service agencies, will sponsor the third annual Maui County Landlord Summit on Wednesday, July 25, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Maui Beach Hotel in Kahului. Property owners and property managers are invited to attend this free event to learn how they can help reduce homelessness on Maui by making more rentals available to those who need them the most.

“Maui has a severe housing shortage, and as leaders on housing issues, the Realtors Association of Maui feels it is our duty to raise awareness, educate others and help find solutions,” said RAM Government Affairs Director Lawrence Carnicelli. “Housing is difficult for many Maui families. By working with landlords and the multitude of agencies gathering at the Maui County Landlord Summit, we hope to help some of these families find a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Finding safe and affordable housing on Maui can be a significant hurdle for low-income or 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, the summit aims to demystify and destigmatize Maui County’s Section 8 Program and other support services, while educating property owners and property managers about the social service programs and services available to them.

Among other things, the Maui County Landlord Summit will feature a trade show, remarks from guest speakers, and panel discussions featuring landlords, tenants and representatives from agencies that provide financial support and other services to Maui’s housing-challenged residents. In addition, a “Housing Hero” award will be 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. Last year, Brandy Aki, a full-time property manager and principal broker of Emerald Club Realty, Inc., was honored as the 2017 “Housing Hero” by the Maui Homeless Alliance.

“I was taken by complete surprise,” she said. “I am a strong believer in paying it forward. Helping is what I do every day and I am honored to receive this award.” Aki said she was grateful for the opportunity to participate in one of the summit’s panel discussions. “As a full-time Realtor and property manager for over 22 years, it was a wonderful experience to share my knowledge with others and hopefully encourage them to support these programs,” she said.

Participants in this year’s Maui County Landlord Summit will include RAM, the Office of the Governor, Office of the Mayor, Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns, Maui Homeless Alliance, Legal Aid Society, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, Family Life Center, Catholic Charities of Hawaii and Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

“This may be only one step, but we, as an organization, are trying to do everything we can,” Carnicelli said. “Maui is a small community—and one big ohana.”

All property owners or representatives of property owners are encouraged to attend this year’s Maui County Landlord Summit. Advanced registration is required and the deadline to register is Friday, July 6. A buffet lunch is included in the event. To register, call 270-7805 or email


By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – June 16, 2018

Sometimes you just have to trust your gut instinct.

That’s something Terra Foti of KW Island Living believes wholeheartedly. In January 2014, she listened to her intuition and launched RUSHwahine, a networking community exclusively for budding and existing female business owners and entrepreneurs.

Over the years, Foti had attended her fair share of business networking events; she would routinely don a nametag, listen attentively to panel discussions, and exchange business cards with other attendees. But one day, she decided to flip the script and create a series of networking opportunities that would delve deeper than their conventional counterparts—and more specifically, help other women unlock their potential.

“I was accustomed to heavy networking in its rawest form, but I yearned for more than a panelist and another business card. I sought to connect, to talk story, to share and to learn with likeminded professionals,” Foti said. “RUSHwahine is a true product of following my na‘au (gut). I created a community that I wanted to be a part of without effort—a space of belonging and acceptance centered around one’s definition of success.”

So, she took a gamble and started sending out invitations to RUSHwahine’s inaugural event. “It was so nerve-wracking, but so unexpectedly successful,” she said. “We had about 45 women from all backgrounds and all levels of experience. Naturally, the majority were in the corporate sector, as that was my immediate and comfortable reach, although over the years, as my needs and wants shift as a business owner, so does my tone and messaging. Today, we stand at 99 percent business owner and entrepreneur-based.”

Since then, RUSHwahine has held nearly 70 live and online events, and its membership continues to grow—and thrive. Among other things, RUSHwahine has hosted online workshops covering topics that run the gamut from social media marketing to bookkeeping; social mixers that are open to both members and non-members; twice-monthly member accountability group meetings, in which the group chooses one business owner and focuses on her project for the entire month; and custom events, such as wine tasting and outdoor excursions, that are designed to promote a sense of community among RUSHwahine’s members.

And there are plenty more networking and learning opportunities to come, Foti said. “We host live events almost monthly,” she explained. RUSHwahine’s female-only events not only provide a safe, supportive environment in which members can share best business practices, but also a chance to forge genuine relationships with other success-driven women in the community.

Foti knows firsthand that the advantages of collaborating with others cannot be overstated. “Working on your own can limit your growth and thinking process,” she advised. “Find an accountability group who can serve as mentor, peer and student; this allows you to have a healthy vantage point on your business.”

For Foti, the greatest reward is seeing others reap the benefits of RUSHwahine—and in many cases, discovering something new about themselves through their interactions with fellow members. “Watching these women find and share their voice through this professional journey is so rewarding,” she said. “It’s exciting to see their faces light up when they realize how they can improve a process to increase sales or rearrange their content on social media to be more effective. I love seeing them win and I am overwhelmed by the opportunity to be surrounded by—and to give and to get—support. My success is truly a reflection of theirs.”

On that note, Foti credits the continued success of RUSHwahine to its members. “I am so humbled and grateful that they continue to value what I’ve created,” she said. “And I honor them by grinding away at this practice daily.”

To learn more about RUSHwahine, to inquire about membership opportunities or to register for an upcoming event, visit or


By Sarah Ruppenthal
Published in The Maui News – June 9, 2018

This month, the War Memorial Gym in Wailuku will come alive with the sounds of bouncing basketballs and shouts of encouragement as youth ages 7 to 18 take part in the 9th annual basketballMAUI camp, which runs June 18 through 22.

As the campers dribble, pass and shoot, Realtors® Association of Maui members Lydia Pedro and Alana Rucynski of Wailea Realty Corp. will be cheering them on from the sidelines. Both serve on basketballMAUI’s board of directors.

basketballMAUI is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the character and basketball fundamentals development of Maui youth through the game of basketball, as well as the growth and development of the sport throughout the state. 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, training and athletic, character and leadership development.

Both Pedro and Rucynski have been involved with the organization since its inception in 2010, and both say they were inspired to join the basketballMAUI team by its founder, Ben Prangnell. “He just has a way of getting people involved,” Rucynski said. “His passion and excitement for kids and how we can help teach them in this ‘game of life’ is contagious.”

Prangnell created basketballMAUI with the mission to impact lives beyond the basketball court. Clearly, the organization has grown by leaps and bounds since then. “As we look forward to our 9th annual basketballMAUI camp, we are excited to host professional athletes, coaches and volunteers who have come to invest in Maui’s youth,” he said. From our inception, we made the decision that no child would be excluded from our programs for lack of financial resources. Over 800 youth have been able to attend our weeklong camp on full scholarship since our first camp.”

Former and active college basketball players and coaches of all stripes (including NCAA Division I coaches) will guide campers through position-specific training, personal training, life skills development and challenge groups, placing an emphasis on enthusiasm, leadership and teamwork. There are four focus areas: individual offense, defense, shooting and team skills. Campers are separated into teaching groups; training is based on age and ability.

“It’s amazing what you can teach a child when you are holding a basketball in your hand,” Prangnell said. “basketballMAUI’s mission is to inspire and equip youth. We believe the most important lessons for life can be taught and encouraged through sports. Teamwork, commitment, tenacity, hard work, choosing a positive mental attitude, and most importantly, faith is what we strive to teach.”

Pedro has witnessed the magic of basketballMAUI firsthand. “The kids get so much out of this experience,” she said. And it’s not just about shooting free throws or hustling down the court. “They also connect with the coaches and develop friendships with kids from different schools and backgrounds,” Pedro said. That’s one of the many reasons why no camper is ever turned away due to financial need. “No one is left behind,” she said. “If a kid wants to come, we will make it happen.”

Like Pedro, Rucynski has seen the positive impact of basketballMAUI and encourages others to support the organization in any way they can. “So many families have been blessed by this organization,” she said.

Prangnell is quick to point out that basketballMAUI is a team effort. “I can’t express enough gratitude to our board of directors on which Lydia Pedro and Alana Rucynski serve and our volunteers who give selflessly to see our Maui youth impacted,” he said. “And to the professional athletes, coaches, trainers who donate their time to provide world-class instruction and the businesses, sponsors and donors—we could not provide these opportunities without them. Finally, to our campers and parents who partner with us knowing our work is bigger than basketball.”

Registration for the 9th annual basketballMAUI camp is underway. There is no registration deadline, but early sign-up is encouraged. Scholarships are also available. Campers will receive a basketball, t-shirt, camp workbook and group photo. For more information about the basketballMAUI camp June 18 through 22 at the War Memorial Gym, visit To inquire about sponsorship or donor opportunities, email Pedro at


By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – June 2, 2018

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 25, Kahului Elementary School faculty members gathered for what they likely assumed would be a routine teachers’ meeting. But a surprise awaited them that day: A check for $1,000. It was a bright spot for the elementary school, which suffered a devastating fire last year that burned multiple classrooms and caused an estimated $1.2 million in damage.

The bearers of that unexpected gift were Michelle Bosque of Coldwell Banker Island Vacations and Sarah Sorenson of Whale’s Tail Realty. Bosque is the designated Wishing Well…for Maui Students coordinator for Kahului Elementary School; Sorenson is the founder of the Wishing Well program.

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

In less than two hours, RAM members raised $1,000 for Kahului Elementary School through the Wishing Well program during a recent general membership meeting. And that was one of two gifts the school received through the Wishing Well program: A few weeks earlier, 500 backpacks filled with school supplies were donated to the Wishing Well program by employees of industrial manufacturing company Siemens, which held a conference at the Grand Wailea Resort & Spa. Of the 500 backpacks, 150 were designated for Kahului Elementary School; 150 for Lihikai Elementary School; 100 for Pu‘u Kukui Elementary School; and 100 for Iao Intermediate School.

“Teachers have a very large responsibility in the education of our children and their impact is immeasurable,” Bosque said. “I feel that we should bless and support them in whatever way we are able in order to reduce their burden so they can focus on what they are great at—teaching the future generations.”

Throughout the year, Bosque and her fellow Wishing Well coordinators and 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. The Wishing Well program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and there are no administrative costs, so 100 percent of everything donated—cash, services and goods—goes directly to the schools. And the Wishing Well’s reach isn’t confined to the island of Maui—it covers all schools in Maui County and serves approximately 20,000 students on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Since it was founded in 2007, the Wishing Well program has collected and contributed more than $1.65 million in goods, services and cash donations to every school in Maui County.

“I find it rewarding just knowing that we are making a positive impact for Maui students, their parents and the teachers,” Bosque said. “Some families do not have the financial means to provide their children with all the materials they need to learn in school or even money for lunch accounts. Teachers spend so much of their own hard earned money to give back to the children. This is a way that we can help support them and take some of that burden off them. It’s a win-win for all.”

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 donations are more important than ever—and every little bit helps. “Plastic storage containers, gently used office chairs, flat-screen TVs or even clean area rugs are always welcome,” Sorenson said. “Of course, cash allows us to purchase the specific educational tools that teachers need. Besides, it is a tax write-off, so everyone benefits.”

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


By Sarah Ruppenthal
Published in The Maui News – May 26, 2018

Ten thousand people. That’s how many men, women and children are served by the Maui Food Bank countywide—including the rural communities of Hana, Molokai and Lanai—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 one of the reasons why Karin Carlson of NextHome Pacific Properties decided to join the Maui Food Bank’s board of directors last month. She was also encouraged to join by two fellow Realtors® Association of Maui members who also serve on the board: Tom Tezak of Wailea Realty Corp. A Boutique of Windermere Real Estate and Mark Harbison of Coldwell Banker Island Properties, who currently serves as the board chair. “Both Mark and Tom are so enthusiastic about the Maui Food Bank and their role to serve…how could you not want to join?” she said.

Since then, Carlson says she’s learned a lot about the organization. “I was so impressed that the Maui Food Bank accepts so many more items than the standard non-perishable and canned food donations,” she said. “The Maui Food Bank also accepts baby food, pet food, produce, as well as many non-food items. And the Maui Food Bank is the source for so many programs on Lanai and Molokai.”

The Maui Food Bank’s programs include monthly food deliveries to underserved areas, a senior mobile pantry, a holiday meal program and the Aloha BackPack Buddies program, which provides healthy weekend meals to students from food-insecure homes throughout the academic year. (Children who are on their school’s free and reduced priced meal program can pick up a pre-filled backpack on Friday afternoons; it contains six meals they can take home with them for the weekend.)

Harbison joined the Maui Food Bank board of directors in 2010; he was elected board chair in 2014 and again in 2017. Among other things, he has been active in promoting and running the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea’s food drives at the Piilani Village Shopping Center Safeway since the store opened; he has also sponsored Rotary district grants for a number of Maui Food Bank projects. “My favorites are a grant to provide meat packing services for a donated cow, and multiple grants to fund the Backpack Buddies pilot and the Kihei Youth Center’s Keiki Kitchen after school program,” he said. “Needless to say, I believe food security is one of our most pressing social issues.”

Harbison emphasized the pivotal role the Maui Food Bank plays in supporting its 120-plus agency and nonprofit partners. “The Maui Food Bank is not only the superstore for its partners, but also plays an important role in capacity building and demonstrating best practices,” he explained. “This is a truly symbiotic relationship in which our wide range of partners ensures that food reaches as many people as possible who are dealing with food insecurity.”

And since he came on board in 2010, Harbison says he has been inspired by the compassion of others. “I am continually impressed with the generosity of Maui people, including the amazing support of our visitors,” he said. “Maui Rotary Clubs and other organizations participate in statewide food drives during the holidays and in the spring, and every year I am amazed at how the number of Maui businesses sponsoring food drives just keeps growing, along with the number of people who give. Food security is a fundamental human right, and yet the problem of food insecurity is growing, along with the island of Maui. The support of the community, including our visitors, has enabled the Maui Food Bank to grow and to initiate and expand new programs, such as Aloha Backpack Buddies and our recent summer food program.”

Summer break is right around the corner; Harbison says providing meals for kids who are out of school will be an immediate challenge for the Maui Food Bank. 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
Published in The Maui News – May 19, 2018

Nine years ago, a son took a bold step forward—and inspired his mother to do the same.

In 2009, Skip Potts, an English teacher and educational trainer, was determined to initiate dialogue about the disparities in our nation’s education system. So, he laced up his tennis shoes and went for a walk—from Boston, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California. His 3,800-mile endeavor was inspired by a book, “Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools,” in which the author, John Kozol, examines the extremes of wealth and poverty in America’s public schools.

As Skip trekked across the country raising awareness and money for underfunded schools, his mother, Barbara Potts of the Aloha Group Maui office for KW Island Living, set up a nonprofit organization called People for Educational Equality (PFEE). The nonprofit’s mission is straightforward: To assist community-driven educational projects and improvements that are sustainable and can have a measurable impact on the schools or communities involved. Initially, PFEE made donations to schools outside of Hawaii that Skip had identified as needing support. But once her son completed his coast-to-coast journey, Potts, now the president of PFEE, shifted her focus to Maui.

“I have always felt that education is very important,” Potts explained. “And it’s easy to see that children in affluent neighborhoods have many more educational advantages than those who grow up in poor neighborhoods.”

Not long after PFEE was established, Potts signed up to be a Realtors Wishing Well…for Maui Students coordinator for Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena Elementary School (she is now the coordinator for King Kamehameha III Elementary School). She met with the vice principal to ask about the school’s needs and discovered that many parents worked multiple jobs or did not speak English at home, which made it difficult for students to have the extra support they needed for homework and other school projects. But then he told her about the Lahaina After School Tutoring Project, a program founded by West Maui residents Pat and Richard Endsley 17 years ago.

With the aim of increasing literacy and comprehension for West Maui public school students, the free tutoring program is staffed entirely by volunteer tutors who work with students on various subjects, while also helping them gain self-confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills.

Today, Potts serves on the Lahaina Complex Education Foundation’s (formerly the Lahaina Intermediate School Educational Foundation) board of directors, which sponsors the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project. And for the past six years, Potts has volunteered as a sixth grade math tutor, and next year, she will be working with fifth graders.

Additionally, PFEE has coordinated a number of fundraising events and donated the proceeds to the tutoring program. Over the years, PFEE has organized the Aina Nalu Wine & Silent Auction Fundraiser for the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project, with assistance from Aina Nalu condominium owners, Rotarians, tutor volunteers and other Realtors Association of Maui members. Since 2011, the biennial fundraiser has raised more than $84,000 for the program.

And every time Potts and her husband, Lee, close an escrow, they donate $100 to PFEE for the tutoring program. “We plan to continue supporting the tutoring program to ensure its long-term existence, while satisfying other educational needs for the West Maui public schools,” she said.

You can support the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project—in the tastiest way possible—at Pi Artisan Pizzeria at the Outlets of Maui between now and Monday, May 14. Just present the code TUTOR18 to your server when you place your order, and 15% of the purchase will be donated to the tutoring program. Pi Artisan Pizzeria is located at 900 Front St. in Lahaina; call 667-0791 or visit

To learn more about People for Education Equality or to make a contribution, visit For more information about the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, call 665-5815 or visit

By Sarah Ruppenthal
Originally published in The Maui News – May 12, 2018