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

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