Published in The Maui News – Saturday, July 15, 2017

By Sarah Ruppenthal

If you bump into Yvonne Aileen at the beach, there’s a good chance she’ll be carrying one of two things: a large trash bag or a five-gallon plastic bucket. Either way, litter doesn’t stand a chance when Aileen, the broker-owner of Aloha Spirit Realty and founder of the “Maui Beach Clean-Up” meet-up group, is around. “Today and yesterday on my walks to my neighborhood beach, I cleaned up—I really can’t help myself,” she said. “I’ve found that five-gallon buckets work great because they’re sturdier and easier to control than bags when it’s windy. I have found them on the side of the road and pulled over to collect them. I’ve joked that I need a bumper sticker that reads ‘will brake for buckets.’”

Aileen learned about the impact of litter at an early age. “My father used to work for the Army Corps of Engineers in Oregon and part of his responsibility was caring for the Cottage Grove Dam,” she explained. “We used to accompany him when he’d visit the dam and park area. He always picked up litter when he was there and had us, my sister, my brothers and I, help. He taught us to think of litter as the eighth deadly sin.”

Aileen moved from Oregon to Maui two years ago. Not long after she arrived, she signed up to volunteer for a Malama Maui Nui beach cleanup at Kahului Harbor. Malama Maui Nui is a nonprofit organization, formerly known as the Community Work Day Program, that engages the community in litter prevention, recycling and beautification efforts across Maui County. “It felt so gratifying to be able to make a difference,” Aileen said. Buoyed by inspiration, she decided to start her own beach cleanup meet-up group last summer.

Now 93 members strong, the meet-up group periodically convenes to clean several Maui beaches and beach parks, including Kahului Harbor, McGregor Point Lighthouse, Sugar Beach and Kalepolepo Beach Park. “We often do Kahului Harbor, because it gets so trashed. On two occasions, I’ve had visitors who’ve come to the harbor cleanup and they’ve been appalled at how trashed it is. They thought it was people littering, but I explain that it just gets washed in, mostly plastic and microplastic,” Aileen said. “I also pick at beaches when I hear from neighbors or friends that there’s a problem. Members can always suggest locations, too.”

For Aileen, facilitating the cleanups is intensely rewarding, chiefly because she is creating opportunities for others to feel a profound sense of accomplishment. “Claudia, a lady who was here visiting and joined us for a harbor cleanup, said, ‘It’s actually very healing,’ and I’d never thought about that before, but she was right,” Aileen said. “The first time I attended a Malama Maui Nui cleanup at Kahului Harbor, you couldn’t place your open hand down on the beach without it covering some litter. By the time we’d finished, only 90 minutes later, it was so much better.”

Aileen urges others to do what they can to put a stop to littering. “We are so blessed to live on Maui, surrounded by the ocean, but that blessing comes with a responsibility for stewardship. This is our ‘aina—it’s a reciprocal relationship and we always get back far more than we give,” she said. “Sociological experiments show that when people see litter, they’re more likely to litter in the same location. If you pick up that piece of trash, you’re sending a message that people here care and you’re preventing future litter.”

At the end of the day, Aileen said, one person can make a big difference. “If something comes into your life that makes you go, ‘Oh, someone should do something about that,’ whether it’s litter, or injustice or whatever—remember you’re someone,” she said. “There is always something we can do to make the world better.”

Aileen encourages new members to join the meet-up group. To join, register at and search for “Maui Beach Clean-Up.” To learn more about Malama Maui Nui or to sign up for the upcoming Get the Drift and Bag It cleanup campaign, which runs from Sept. 16 through Oct. 14 at sites throughout Maui County, call 877-2524, email or visit

Do you know a Realtors Association of Maui member who should be recognized for their contributions to the community? If so, send your story idea to Sarah Ruppenthal at

Photo caption:

Realtors Association of Maui member and Maui Beach Clean-Up founder Yvonne Aileen is on an anti-litter crusade that’s picking up more than garbage—it’s picking up momentum, too.

Looking for a way to give back—and have some fun while you’re doing it? Well, here’s a safe bet: You can roll the dice, spin the roulette wheel and help Maui County students achieve their academic goals on Saturday, July 8, 2017, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Maui Tropical Plantation. That’s when the Realtors® Association of Maui (RAM) will host the first-ever RAM’s Big Deal fundraiser benefitting RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund.

The casino-themed evening will feature crowd favorites like blackjack, Texas Hold ‘Em, craps, roulette and Wheel of Fortune. In addition to the games, there will be an exclusive Old Lahaina Luau performance, dance numbers by the Kit Kat Club Cabaret and live music by Jimmy Mac & The Kool Kats. Guests will also be treated to award-winning cuisine by The Mill House, as well as a silent auction and great door prizes. “There’s plenty of fun, even if you don’t like casino games,” said RAM’s Big Deal Event Chairperson Melissa Salvador of Old Republic Title Company. “Get glammed up and come out for a fun evening.”

The real winners of RAM’s Big Deal are the students who will receive scholarships through RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund. “The No. 1 reason we are doing this is to raise scholarship money for Maui students who are trying to achieve higher education,” Salvador explained. And you don’t have to be a RAM member to go “all in” for this good cause. “We encourage anyone in the Maui community to come out, have fun, see the amazing changes at Maui Tropical Plantation and help support this fantastic scholarship program,” she said.

Since it began in 1989, RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $560,000 to high school seniors across Maui County, as well as past recipients of the scholarship. Funds for the scholarship program are raised through events like RAM’s Big Deal, RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Golf Event, RAM’s Installation Luncheon and the “RAM’s Got Talent” competition.

To be eligible for the scholarship award, students must be a graduating high school senior or a former recipient of the scholarship and they must be in the process of applying or reapplying to an accredited college or university or trade school. Applicants must also be full-time Maui County residents who are currently attending—or have previously attended—a public or private high school in Maui County; however, students attending private high schools off-island will be considered residents of Maui County if they are living off-island for the specific purpose of attending that private high school. Current GED participants are also encouraged to apply for the scholarship award.

Once they receive the completed applications, the members of the RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Review Committee carefully evaluate each applicant based on a number of criteria, including financial need, scholastic achievement, career goals, school activities and community activities.

The committee determines the total number of scholarship recipients—which is usually around 35 to 40 students. As for the dollar amounts, scholarships are awarded for a minimum of $1,000, but higher amounts may be granted at the discretion of the review committee.

All of the scholarship recipients, along with their immediate family members, are invited to RAM’s General Membership meeting, which is held every year in July. There, they are honored on stage with a certificate and lei and then treated to a private luncheon, where they have an opportunity to mingle with the review committee members, as well as their fellow scholarship recipients.

“This year we would love to be able to raise enough money to give out 50 scholarships to students,” Salvador said. “They’re our future. And that’s a big deal.”

Tickets for RAM’s Big Deal are $150 per person and include dinner and drinks, $500 in casino chips and a chance to win one of four door prizes valued at $100 or more. For more information, visit To purchase tickets, visit To learn more about RAM’s Presidential Scholarship Fund, contact Claudia Bustamente at 270-4647 or

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – June 17, 2017

South Maui’s beaches just got a little bit safer thanks to the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea, which raised funds to install 28 lifesaving rescue tubes at six beach parks last month. As part of a two-year community service project, the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea was granted permission by the county to purchase and install the rescue tubes—sentinel flotation equipment that is used to stabilize distressed swimmers before rescue—at Kalama Beach Park, Cove Park, Charley Young Beach and all three Kamaole Beach Parks.

On the morning of Saturday, May 27, a group of Rotarians met at the north end of Kalama Beach Park and worked their way south, installing rescue tubes every 300 feet. Among them were four Realtors® Association of Maui members: Karin Carlson of NextHome Pacific Properties, Kathleen Tezak of Elite Pacific Properties, and Lauren Arnold and Mark Harbison of Coldwell Banker Island Properties.

“These devices save lives,” Carlson said. “We have so many visitors here on Maui who have no knowledge of how powerful the ocean can be. Even a seemingly small shore break can wreak havoc on unsuspecting visitors who are in areas where there is no pounding surf.”

Arnold, who once worked as a beach patrol guard on the East Coast, is all too familiar with the inherent dangers of the ocean. “I do not take it for granted that I grew up next to the ocean and sometimes it feels like I was born knowing how to swim, how to spot rip currents and how to get out of them,” she said. “I remember moving out here and wondering why there weren’t more lifeguard stands. I think sometimes people who visit here get swept away in all the beauty that is Maui and forget the ocean can be very dangerous. Even people who live here sometimes forget.”

The need for ocean safety devices like rescue tubes cannot be overstated. Rogue waves, rip tides and strong currents can appear out of nowhere—and occur more often than most realize. According to the state Department of Health, ocean drownings are the second leading cause of fatal injuries in Maui County—and are responsible for more deaths than vehicular or motorcycle accidents. In addition, of Maui island’s 114 drowning deaths from 2005 to 2014, more than a quarter occurred in South Maui. And of Maui County’s 139 drowning deaths from 2006 to 2015, 101, or 73 percent, were visitors.

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

The tubes, which are designed to keep three adults afloat, are outfitted with a 10-foot-long tether line at one end. In an emergency situation, bystanders can toss the tube or (if they can safely do so) swim out with it so the distressed swimmer can hold on to it until emergency responders arrive. “The average person can take the flotation device and safely get them back to shore, without becoming one of the victims,” Carlson explained.

Later this month, the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea plans to install additional rescue tubes at Keawakapu Beach and hopes to raise enough funds to purchase the devices for other south shore beaches that do not have lifeguards. The club bought the rescue tubes from the Rescue Tube Foundation, a Kauai-based organization that aims to lower the incidence of drowning by providing a sufficient number of these lifesaving devices at recreational aquatic environments throughout the state. The price tag for each rescue tube is $150—inarguably, a nominal cost for saving a life.

“These rescue tubes can save infinite number of lives in the future,” Arnold said. “I am really proud to be a part of this community effort.”

To learn more about the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea, visit For more information about the club’s rescue tube project or to make a donation, email Mary Margaret Baker at

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – June 10, 2017

It is a sobering reality: According to the National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 American children are victims of neglect or physical or sexual abuse every year. In Hawaii, more than 50 percent of reported victims of crime are under 18 years of age and research shows that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18.

That’s why Hawaii’s Children’s Justice Centers are so important. The centers are programs of the Hawaii State Judiciary and were established by the state legislature in 1986 to ensure a fair and neutral process for the handling of reports of child abuse. Today, there are five centers statewide: West Hawaii, East Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai and Maui (the Maui center also serves children living on Molokai and Lanai who may be flown in for interviews and medical examinations). Each center is designed to make children feel safe and comfortable while being interviewed about reports of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, and as witnesses to crimes. On average, these centers see approximately 1,300 children per year—and many of these children arrive with no more than the clothes on their backs.

That’s where organizations like the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui step in to help. Like its counterparts on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island, the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui supports the Children’s Justice Center, promotes community awareness of child abuse and neglect and provides services to help children recover from the damaging effects of their abuse.

On Saturday, May 6, members of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) Aloha Chapter delivered boxes of much-needed items to the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui. The group spent several weeks collecting diapers, baby wipes, toys, books, school supplies, grooming and hygiene products, cash donations and McDonald’s gift cards (the center routinely treats children to meals at McDonald’s). Most of the donated items will be placed in care kits, which are given to children as they arrive at the center. “The Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui does so much for our community,” said Fine Island Properties Principal Broker and Owner Gina Duncan, who co-founded the AREAA Aloha Chapter four years ago and currently serves as the chapter’s president. “We are so fortunate to have a place on Maui that does this kind of work.”

Founded in 2003, AREAA is a nonprofit professional trade organization that promotes sustainable homeownership opportunities in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities nationwide. AREAA is the only trade association dedicated to representing the interests of the entire Asian real estate market nationwide. Among other things, the organization advocates for policy positions at the national level that will reduce homeownership barriers facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and hosts national and local events to educate and inform its members about housing issues and developments that affect those communities. AREAA members are housing and real estate professionals from different cultural backgrounds; membership is open to anyone who supports the organization’s mission. The AREAA Aloha Chapter, which was founded in 2013, serves the entire state and has active members on Hawaii’s four major islands.

Every year in May, AREAA holds a national day of community service called “AREAA Builds the Community Day” (or, “ABCD”). Projects have run the gamut from renovating a fire-ravaged home to hosting food and clothing drives—and everything in between. For the past two years, the AREAA Aloha Chapter has chosen ABCD projects that invest in Hawaii’s children, which, of course, is an investment in our future.

On Saturday, May 27, Duncan flew to Oahu to join AREAA members as they delivered donated items to the Friends of the Family Specialty Courts, a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources to help children and teenagers return to safe homes or transition to new homes. “These children should be playing and having the time of their lives,” Duncan said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to do what we can to help.”

To learn more about AREAA, visit For more information about the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui, visit or call 986-8634.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – June 6, 2017

Looking back on it now, Barbara Ruberto says there was a time she couldn’t imagine paddling an outrigger canoe 16 miles across the open ocean—four years in a row. “I’m from the Midwest,” she said. “So, no, back then, this was something I couldn’t see myself doing.”  

But that all changed in 2013, when Ruberto, a Realtor® with Keller Williams Island Living, accepted a friend’s invitation to give outrigger paddling a try. “She encouraged me to paddle with a group,” she said. “I’d never done it before, but I decided to try it.” That day, as the group cut through the waves, something magical happened: a humpback whale breached not far from the canoe. “It was incredible,” Ruberto said. “I couldn’t believe it happened on my first day paddling.”

That’s when she decided she would be a paddler for life.

Not long after, Ruberto joined the Kihei Canoe Club and was soon competing in regattas as a member of the club’s race team (she also bought a one-man outrigger canoe of her own). Then, in 2014, one of the club’s directors told her about a non-competitive event called Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lanai, a fundraiser for the Pacific Cancer Foundation. “I didn’t give it a second thought,” she said.

At the time, Ruberto’s best friend was battling brain cancer, so she signed up to paddle in her friend’s honor. Tragically, the following year, Ruberto’s friend lost her battle with cancer. “The first year I paddled in her honor; the second and third year, I paddled in her memory,” she said. “For the past two years, I’ve paddled wearing her baseball hat and I’ll be wearing it again this year.”   

This will be Ruberto’s fourth year participating in the Paddle for Life event—and it won’t be her last. “I plan to do this in the years to come,” she said. “I feel so honored to be a part of this event.”

Now in its ninth year, the annual two-day event, which takes place Oct. 7 and 8, draws hundreds of participants—men and women of all ages—who paddle six-person outrigger canoes in shifts across the Auau Channel (a 34-mile roundtrip journey) from Lahaina to Lanai. Many of the participants are cancer survivors; nearly all have been affected by cancer in some way. There may be teams wearing matching t-shirts, but there are no race bibs, timers or prizes. “It’s not a race, it’s a voyage,” Ruberto explained. It is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual feat—one that parallels the journey experienced by cancer patients and survivors.

In the months leading up the event, participants fundraise for the Pacific Cancer Foundation, a Maui-based, independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was founded in 2005 by a group of concerned health care professionals and cancer survivors. The Pacific Cancer Foundation provides free support services to Maui’s cancer community, including a patient navigator, who gives individualized support and guidance to patients and families; a nutritional counseling program that offers support during and after cancer treatment; cancer support groups for survivors and caregivers; intuitive healing meditation; transportation assistance; and information on clinical trials. The Pacific Cancer Foundation also sponsors visiting specialists, including a high-risk breast cancer specialist and a gynecological oncologist, who meet with patients one-on-one (these specialties are currently unavailable on Maui, so by bringing the doctor to the patient, the patient does not have to travel off-island).

The fundraising goal for this year’s Paddle for Life is $175,000 ($154,000 was raised last year) and Ruberto hopes it will meet—or better yet, exceed—that goal. There are many ways to contribute: Donors can sponsor a paddler, a team, a safety boat or the event itself. All of the money raised stays here in Maui County and helps the Pacific Cancer Foundation continue its important work.

For more information about the Pacific Cancer Foundation, visit To learn more about the 2017 Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lanai or to inquire about donor or sponsor opportunities, visit To contribute to Ruberto’s fundraising page, visit

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – May 27, 2017

For Linda Briske, there’s no greater joy than watching the proverbial light bulb go on in a child’s head during a weekly mentoring session. “It’s so rewarding to see how quickly a student progresses, mostly all on their own,” she said. “I learn something new each session, too.”

Nine years ago, Briske, a Realtor®-Broker with Island Sotheby’s International Realty, learned about an organization called Kids Hope USA, which pairs elementary school students with trained mentors for weekly one-hour sessions. For some kids, these afterschool mentoring sessions are the highlight of their week—it’s a solid hour of one-on-one attention, just for them. “I got involved with Kids Hope USA because there was a need for mentors and I wanted to help,” Briske explained. “I was blessed to be able to serve at the Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center, so I knew firsthand that serving was very rewarding.”

Not long after she signed up to be a Kids Hope USA volunteer, Briske began working with a fifth grade student at Kula Elementary School. “She was an absolute delight and I still think of her to this day,” she said. Needless to say, it was a transformative experience: Since then, Briske has mentored students in Kindergarten through the fifth grade and has developed a close and enduring bond with her charges. “My former student and I started working together when he was in Kindergarten,” she said. “It was fantastic to see him flourish over the six years that we spent together. He’s a bright and multitalented young man today. I’m so proud of him.”

Briske and her fellow Kids Hope USA mentors are on hand to help students improve their reading, writing and arithmetic skills. “Fifth grade math is not so easy,” she laughed. But there’s more to mentoring than fractions, book reports and spelling lists. “Sometimes mentoring is just being there, with no agenda to accomplish,” she said. “It’s all about being present for the student.”

Briske says the mentoring program is thriving because of the support it receives from the teachers, staff and principal of Kula Elementary School. “They all very dedicated, caring and supportive and they really care about each and every child,” she said. “Every teacher I have worked with has been organized beyond expectation, and honestly, they are beyond amazing. The level of skill, patience and kindness is second to none.”

Briske is a familiar face around the Kula Elementary School campus: In addition to mentoring, she also serves as the school’s coordinator for the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program, which collects furniture, school supplies and other items for Maui County’s public schools. Run entirely by volunteer Realtors® Association of Maui (RAM) members, the nonprofit organization has contributed more than $1.5 million in goods, services and cash donations to every school in Maui County.

An ardent advocate for students, teachers and schools, Briske encourages others to give back in any way they can—tangibly or otherwise. “First and foremost, if you know and teachers or staff, let them know much they are appreciated,” she said. “There are fundraisers during the year, which you can participate in financially or with helping hands. If you have household items in good condition, keep schools and teachers in mind. Teachers often use their own money to supplement supplies for the classroom. Donations are always appreciated and go directly for the benefit of the students.”

As for those who may be considering signing up to mentor a child, Briske says the rewards cannot be overstated. “All you need is a willing spirit and a loving heart,” she said. “You will likely receive more than you give.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids, Briske said. “When it comes to Maui, there are many organizations that help bridge the gap to meet the needs,” she said. “I believe many hands make light work. Don’t ever think that your help is not needed. Investing in our keiki and in their schools is investing in your future. And theirs, too.”

To learn more about Kids Hope USA, visit For more information about the Wishing Well…for Maui Students program or to make a PayPal donation, visit


By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – May 20, 2017

Tracy Stice is ready to go the extra mile—545, to be exact—to help fund the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Next month, Stice, a Realtor®-Broker with Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers, will join thousands of cyclists for the annual AIDS/LifeCycle, a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Calif. Since its inception 11 years ago, AIDS/LifeCycle has raised more than $86 million for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which develop and implement programs to prevent new infections and provide those living with HIV access to medical care, counseling and housing.

In addition to raising funds for the life-saving services of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the AIDS/LifeCycle event also increases awareness and knowledge about HIV/AIDS and inspires participants to become ambassadors in the fight against AIDS.

“There’s still no cure for this disease,” Stice said. “We can’t forget about it.”

According to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS—and one in eight of them don’t know it. In 2015, nearly 40,000 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States. Since the pandemic began in the early 1980s, 78 million people worldwide have contracted HIV, 35 million have died of AIDS-related illnesses, and at the end of 2015, 36.7 million people were living with HIV around the globe.

Every mile he pedals, Stice will be making a difference in the lives of those living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS. He’s also making a difference for himself. “I’ve had some health issues over the past year,” Stice explained. “This was an opportunity for me to take control of my health. It’s me making a statement about wanting to be around.”

Stice is no cycling novice; he’s logged plenty of miles over the years. Stice swapped his old mountain bike for his first road bike in 1995, and since then, he’s cycled up and down the East Coast, through Europe and Japan, and along just about every stretch of blacktop on Maui. In fact, on any given Sunday, he’s awake before dawn, gearing up for a long ride. And he doesn’t take the easy route: Stice is not one to shy away from steep hills, rough terrain or inclement weather.

Stice already has one AIDS/LifeCycle under his belt. In 2007, a friend convinced him to register for the event. “He told me, ‘You’re doing this,’” Stice said. “So I did it.” Clearly, 545 miles (punctuated by several hard climbs and a few busy freeways) is no small feat, but Stice says he embraced the challenge 10 years ago—and he’s still up for the task a decade later. “It’s all about fun, fitness and friends. The best way to describe it is a rolling party,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to doing it again. I know it will be harder, now that I’m 10 years older, but I’m ready for it.”

Stice threw himself into training for this year’s AIDS/LifeCycle three months ago. Among other things, he’s been pedaling long distances several times a week and paddling regularly (he’s an active member of the Na Kai Ewalu Canoe Club). Stice has also been busy collecting donations from supporters and said he hopes to surpass his fundraising goal. “Any amount helps,” he said. “It’s all for a good cause.”

At 65, Stice says this year’s AIDS/LifeCycle is a bucket list item. “This ride is as much about a bucket list for me as a fundraiser for a great cause,” he said. (Also on that list: The Molokai Hoe, a 41-mile outrigger canoe race from Molokai to Oahu across the Kaiwi Channel, which takes place in October.)

Stice says he’s expecting sore muscles, bouts of exhaustion and a stiff backside next month, but the aches and pains are worth it. “I know I’m doing this for a good cause and that’s what will keep me going,” he said. “Givers always gain. If you give without expecting anything in return, you’re going to come out ahead.”

To learn more about AIDS/LifeCycle, visit


By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – May 13, 2017

The statistics should give you pause: According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Every day, nearly 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease, an average of one death every 40 seconds. Roughly 790,000 people in the U.S. have heart attacks each year—of those, around 114,000 will die. And approximately every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. will have a heart attack or a stroke.

These startling figures are what prompt more than one million Americans across the country to take steps against heart and cardiovascular diseases by participating in the Heart Walk, an annual fundraiser for the American Heart Association. 

The American Heart Association is the country’s longest-running voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease. Founded in 1924 by a group of cardiologists, the American Heart Association advocates for stronger public health policies, funds heart and stroke research and provides lifesaving tools and information. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the organization has 156 offices nationwide, including the American Heart Association Maui Division at the J. Walter Cameron Center in Wailuku.

Since 1949, the American Heart Association has invested billions of dollars in research that has led to significant medical breakthroughs, including techniques and standards for CPR, the first artificial heart valve, implantable pacemakers, cholesterol inhibitors, microsurgery and drug-eluted stents.

That’s why fundraising efforts like the annual Maui Heart Walk are so important, said Leslie-Ann Yokouchi, owner and principal broker of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle. On the morning of Saturday, April 8, Yokouchi laced up her sneakers and joined hundreds of “heart walkers” at the 2017 Maui Heart Walk, a non-competitive 5K walk that took place at Keopuolani Park in Kahului.

Yokouchi was honored with this year’s Maui Heart Walk “Top Executive Walker Award” for her fundraising efforts. She served as the co-captain of the 15-member Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate team, which received the event’s “Top Team Award” for raising $10,930 for the American Heart Association. “As the saying goes, ‘If home is where your heart is, then community is where you will find our souls,’” she said.

Yokouchi has a personal connection to the mission of the American Heart Association. “My dad played a major role in the person I am today. My dad’s life was dedicated in giving back to this community and I know this is who inspired me to do the same,” she said. “My dad died from heart disease, so I am personally touched by this disease and I am sure most of us know someone who suffered as well.”

Yokouchi’s team co-captain was Randy Tsurusato, a Realtor® Salesperson with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle. Tsurusato, who received this year’s “Top Walker Award,” was a career firefighter before entering the real estate industry. “As firefighters, we’ve always been involved with the American Heart Association because of our familiarity with heart and stroke disease affecting our profession and our extended families,” he explained. “We lose countless brothers and sisters each year to these deadly diseases.”

That’s one of the many reasons why Tsurusato supports the Maui Heart Walk each year. “Our profession is dedicated to saving lives and serving our communities each day, so this is just a natural extension of our lifelong profession that we hold near and dear to our hearts,” he said. “We are affected each and every day by these deadly diseases and hope to help others understand and prevent this from happening to their loved ones.”

The 2017 Maui Heart Walk may have come and gone, but it’s not too early to start planning for next year’s event—and it’s never too late to start supporting the American Heart Association. “I’ve learned the importance of giving back to our community… and everyone can do that,” Yokouchi said. “The Heart Walk is a great example of how everyone can get involved. If you can’t give monetarily, giving of your time by walking or soliciting donations is how you can help.”

To learn more about the American Heart Association, visit or call the American Heart Association-Maui Division office at 244-7185.

Do you know a Realtors Association of Maui member who should be recognized for their contributions to the community? If so, send your story idea to Sarah Ruppenthal at 


By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – April 22, 2017

The good times were rolling at Mulligans on the Blue on Saturday, March 11, when dozens of RAM members took the field for the sixth annual Bocce Ball Fundraising Tournament benefitting the Maui Food Bank’s Aloha BackPack Buddies program.

The event raised $30,600 for the Aloha BackPack Buddies program, which provides healthy weekend meals to elementary school children from food-insecure homes throughout the academic year. Aloha BackPack Buddies currently serves 600 students at 20 schools (which works out to 144,000 meals throughout the school year) and the annual budget for the program is $100,000, which is why fundraising events like the annual bocce ball tournament are so important.

Among the 24 teams that participated in this year’s event were 15 “rookie teams.” One of those teams, the “Bocce Bawlers,” took home the third place trophy and was named the tournament’s first-ever “Rookie Team of the Year.”   

Call it beginners luck, but remarkably, none of the Bocce Bawlers had played bocce ball before the tournament—so they were rookies in every sense of the word. “Not one of us had ever played before,” said Lauren Arnold of Coldwell Banker Island Properties, who served as the Bocce Bawlers’ team captain. “We were solely there to support a great cause, create camaraderie and have a fun day. Realtors are a fun bunch.”

Arnold says she decided to enter a team in the tournament when she spotted an email flyer in her inbox. “I saw that it was a benefit to help provide food to hungry children in Maui and thought, ‘I’m in,’” she said. “I reached out to the Young Professional Network, or YPN as it’s known, of which I am an active member.”

The newly formed YPN is comprised of RAM’s young professionals—including agents from various brokerage firms, as well as affiliate members—and aims to support up-and-coming leaders in Maui’s real estate industry. “You do not necessarily have to be ‘young,’ but definitely need to be young at heart,” Arnold explained. “YPN is all about creating an environment of future real estate leaders who are deal makers and work well with other industry professionals. We’re here to learn as much as we can, support where we can, and continue to keep real estate great on Maui for many years to come. Anyone can join YPN and I encourage people to reach out and get involved.”

YPN’s current chair members participated in last month’s tournament, including Arnold, Amy Rudometkin of Windermere Maui and Gray Marino of Coldwell Banker Island Properties. “We had to sub out one player last minute who was sick with the flu (Carter Barto of Windermere Maui),” Arnold explained. “I think it’s really cool that the gist of YPN is that we’re ‘rookies’ in the industry… and the rookies came together and ended up winning ‘Rookie Team of the Year.’ It’s fitting.”

Without question, earning the “Rookie Team of the Year” trophy was a high-five moment, but Arnold and her fellow team members agreed that the highlight of the day was playing for a good cause. “It always feels good to help others, but especially little people that don’t have much of a choice in the life they’ve been handed,” Arnold said. “I’ve been a part of charities specifically supporting children for as long as I can remember. I highly encourage others to get involved as much as they are able to.”

If you missed this year’s tournament, mark your calendars now: The seventh annual Bocce Ball Fundraising Tournament benefitting the Aloha BackPack Buddies program will take place on Saturday, March 17, 2018, at Mulligans on the Blue. Event organizers say there will be space for 32 teams at next year’s event. Arnold encourages other “bocce rookies” to give it a try. “Don’t be intimidated if you do not understand bocce ball and the rules,” she said. “It’s quick, easy and it doesn’t take a great deal of skill. Get involved.”

To learn more about the 2018 Bocce Ball Fundraising Tournament, contact Patrick Kilbride at 264-4289 or For more information about the Maui Food Bank and the Aloha BackPack Buddies program, visit

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – April 15, 2017

It goes without saying that conflict is an inevitable part of everyday life. Many of us think of conflict as a destructive force, but it can also be a catalyst for positive change—the trick is knowing how to manage conflict constructively. But for some, it’s easier said than done. That’s when a trained mediator can step in and help.

“The mediation process really works,” said Terry Tolman, former chief staff executive of the Realtors® Association of Maui. “I’ve seen it firsthand.” Four years ago, Tolman signed up for a basic mediation training through Maui Mediation Services, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides alternative dispute resolution, facilitation and training to residents on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Tolman says it didn’t take long for him to see the magical quality of mediation. “I was blown away by the process,” he said. “It really works.”

In fact, Tolman was so impressed that he accepted an invitation to join Maui Mediation Services’ board of directors. Then, three years ago, he became the board’s president. “It’s a great organization and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.

Simply put, mediation is a voluntary, confidential process that offers a cost-effective way for those in conflict to settle disputes, as it eliminates the need to go to court. Here’s how it works: During a mediation session, individuals entangled in a dispute meet face to face to find a mutually acceptable solution to their problem. Each party is assisted by an independent and impartial third party, called a mediator, who facilitates the process. Mediators do not give legal advice or determine who is right or wrong; instead, he or she works as a go-between, helping the parties get to root of the problem, find common ground, explore all options and negotiate a win-win outcome. All mediation sessions are private; any information exchanged during the session cannot be used in court. However, if the parties come up with a workable solution, a signed agreement can be used in court.

At the end of the day, a successful mediation is entirely dependent on the willingness of both parties to listen to one another and reach consensus. Tolman, who has facilitated several mediations, says the process can have a positive, lasting effect, regardless of the outcome. “Even if there’s not an immediate resolution, it opens up the channels of communication,” he said. “It gets people to start listening to each other. That’s the real magic of mediation.”  

Like Tolman, Maui Mediation Services’ volunteer mediators are community members who have completed specialized training in conflict resolution and interpersonal communication. These volunteers handle a range of disputes, including, but not limited to, divorce; child custody; landlord/tenant; consumer/merchant; neighborhood; real estate; and workplace conflict. (The organization notes that there are situations in which mediation is not appropriate and will not work, such as cases involving domestic violence or child abuse.) As for the cost, fees are based on an individual’s annual income and range from $60 to $350 per party, per session; Maui Mediation Services will not turn anyone away for inability to pay.

If you have a knack for turning problems into solutions, you may want to consider contributing your time and talent to Maui Mediation Services. The organization sponsors four-day, hands-on basic mediation trainings that teach participants to manage and resolve conflict, improve interpersonal and professional communication and work effectively with parties involved in disputes who need help. These skills and techniques are beneficial tools, even if you don’t have your sights set on becoming a mediator, Tolman said.  “These are skills you can use every day,” he explained. “At home, at work, with your family, friends and kids… all areas of your life.” 

For those in conflict, Tolman recommends giving mediation a try. “It’s amazing how it works,” he said. “Maui Mediation Services makes a big difference for a lot of people.”

For more information about Maui Mediation Services, to schedule a mediation session or to learn more about basic mediation training, visit or call 244-5744.


By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – April 1, 2017

Photo Caption

Terry Tolman serves as the president of Maui Mediation Services’ board of directors. “It’s a great organization and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.