For Donna Ting, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is more than just a catchphrase—it’s a guiding principle.

In October, Ting, a property manager and Realtor-Broker with Tri-Isle Realty & Development Co., was selected by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) as an honorable mention winner of Realtor® Magazine’s 2017 Good Neighbor Awards. The annual awards program honors NAR members across the nation who have made a difference in their communities through volunteer work. Since 2000, the Good Neighbor Awards program has awarded more than $1.1 million in grants to the winners’ charities. As an honorable mention recipient, Ting will receive a $2,500 grant for La‘akea, the organization she co-founded nearly two decades ago.

Seventeen years ago, Ting, along with other concerned residents, set out to create a residential and vocational lifesharing community where autistic and intellectually/developmentally disabled (IDD) adults could have meaningful employment and living options. For Ting, it was a mission of the heart: She’d come to realize that adults with special needs have very few opportunities for advancement once they age out of high school. 

In 2004, Ting met Andrea Hall Rodgers (who now serves as La‘akea’s executive director), and in the years that followed, the pair worked tirelessly to make the dream of La‘akea a reality. Among other things, they managed to convince county lawmakers to lease a parcel of land in Upper Paia; Ting also paid for a residential water meter out of her own pocket and later secured developers’ credits to purchase a larger water meter for the property (which saved La‘akea close to $50,000).

Then, in 2010, La‘akea opened its doors as a state Department of Health (DOH)-licensed agency, with a 12-acre working organic farm, community center and country store. Two years later, Ting was knocking on lawmakers’ doors at the state Capitol, lobbying for a $400,000 grant to fund La‘akea’s expansion into housing. And the timing was nothing short of serendipitous: a nine-bedroom foreclosed home had just come on the market directly across the street from the farm. Ting didn’t waste any time typing up an offer, and although it was significantly less than other offers, hers won the bidding war. Ting persuaded a few of her contractor pals to renovate the house, and in 2014, it opened as a state DOH-licensed group home. In addition to operating the group home, La‘akea also serves additional day program clients and manages three apartments supporting IDD clients where they live independently.

Today, with support from the county, the state legislature, select private foundations, individual donors and IDD providers countywide, La‘akea’s residential and day programs give people with disabilities an opportunity to work and thrive together—and share the fruits of their labor with others (people stop by the farm weekly for locally grown organic fruit and vegetables and handmade gifts). “That’s why I worked so hard to make this happen—I wanted people to have a job, a home, friends and a meaningful life,” Ting said.

It comes as no surprise that Rodgers nominated Ting for this year’s Good Neighbor award—in fact, the only person who was surprised by the nomination was Ting herself. And it’s not the first time she’s been acknowledged for her giving nature: In June 2016, she was honored as Maui’s “Housing Hero” during the first annual Maui Landlord Summit. The award acknowledged Ting as a compassionate, understanding property manager and landlord who treats all of her tenants—past, present and future—fairly. 

Ting started selling homes part-time at the age of 19. When a few of her clients asked her to keep a close eye on their investments while they were on the mainland, she took on a new and unexpected role as a property manager. Today, she manages close to 100 properties all over the island. And if you ask the countless tenants she’s worked with over the years, they’ll tell you Ting has given them more than just a place to live—it’s also given them a place to call home.

At the end of the day, Ting says giving back—and doing the right thing—is what matters most. “I’ve been given so much in my life,” she said. “And I feel blessed to be able to give back. It’s what makes me happy.” 

For more information about La‘akea, or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.laakea.org , email mail@laakea.org, call 579-8398 or stop by the farm’s country store, located at 639 Baldwin Ave in Upper Paia, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – December 2, 2017

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