Kokua Champions give back

by Sharon Higa | Jan. 20, 2021

This year’s recipients of the HEI Charitable Foundation Kokua Community Champion Service Award have given countless hours to make a difference in their communities. So, it’s fitting that their reward for the honor is to bestow a $1,000 grant from the foundation to nonprofits of their choice because giving back is what they do. Let’s meet the six Kokua Champions and their chosen nonprofits:

Marli, far right, with Mary Bahilot (far left) and Terry Nemoto (center), at the 2019 AHA Heart Walk, an event she has participated in for the past three years.

Marli Aquino, a security coordinator, has participated in more than 60 community events around Oahu since 2012. As one of the first to show up and the last to leave, Marli takes on any role needed and often recruits family members to help as well. Marli will split the grant between the American Heart Association and National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii because of her mom who suffers heart and kidney issues. “Hopefully with my contribution, it will support their need to find cures for cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and also promote kidney awareness,” said Marli.

Farron, right, at the Common Ground Collective booth during the annual ulu festival, with Terese Wormser, board vice president. Farron serves as the board treasurer.

A budget analyst, Farron Cabral, was determined to help her Wailuku community as the effects of the pandemic stretched resources and morale. She raised $1,200 to provide weekly meals for hospital employees and secured community support to fund meals for employees of a residential health care facility. She also has raised funds to provide gift bags for foster families in transition and helped prepare meals for Maui homeless. Farron will split the grant between two nonprofits that she serves as a board member.

“It’s important to me to preserve our beautiful island home for generations to come and I believe Common Ground Collective does that by harvesting local fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste and providing it directly to local restaurants and food insecure residents,” Farron said. “I also am thankful for the Wailuku Hongwanji Mission and the services they provide to the community. Our family alone has benefited from the preschool, Japanese language after-school program, judo, karate, and the various Obon festivals put on throughout the year.

Grant, top row center, at the Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders Fellows graduation (2018).

By day, Grant Fukuda is a corporate analyst, but in his off hours the Nuuanu resident can be found volunteering his time as a mentor to young leaders in Hawaii; as a sponsor of a senior in need of assistance shopping for food, supplies and medication; and as an assistant soccer coach for his alma mater school boys’ team. Grant will award the $1,000 grant to the Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders (CTL), a nonprofit that engages, equips and empowers students with the tools and training to discover their potential and become tomorrow’s visionary leaders. In choosing CTL, Grant emphasized, “Strong leadership in Hawaii is important now more than ever. CTL focuses on the development of Hawaii’s youth and gives them leadership opportunities and exposure that they may not have had otherwise. I selected CTL as they will continue to advance the growth of Hawaii’s next generation of leaders.”

Earlynne, far right, with TPL staff Leslie Uptain, Reyna Ramolete Hayashi and Raeanne Cobb-Adams, at Aala Park, an ongoing project for the nonprofit.

Manoa resident Earlynne Maile, director of system planning, has organized and led numerous volunteer community service projects at Hawaiian Electric over a career that spans more than three decades. Most recently, Earlynne brought together employees and their families to help restore Hawaii’s cultural lands at Kahuku Point, Waimea Valley, and Kaala Farms, as well as prepare newly completed homes in Kahauiki Village for occupancy by homeless families. In 2020, Earlynne also found time to support the company’s first virtual volunteer activity by calling 200 Oahu residents encouraging them to complete the 2020 census. “I pick The Trust for Public Land to receive the grant because they are committed to protecting land for people,” said Earlynne, who is a member of the Hawaii Advisory Board. “Their Aloha Aina work protects lands that are culturally significant to native Hawaiians. That is important to me.”

As program manager for Emergency Planning & Preparedness, Lydia Mertyris must adapt to rapidly evolving situations. In the early weeks of the pandemic, she quickly sewed more than 300 masks, donating half to emergency responders while selling the rest on Instagram so all proceeds could be used to provide meals to the hungry. As a mentor, Lydia has been instrumental in guiding students from diverse cultures and backgrounds to start solving real world issues and to become future leaders. For about six years, she also has been serving on the advisory board of a nonprofit ocean safety and conservation organization. Kokua Kalihi Valley is her pick to receive the grant, specifically to benefit the Ehuola and Wahine Hapai programs. “These are grant-funded programs that focus on the family, educate kids about their environment, engage them in cultural activities, promote sustainable activities and aina stewardship, create community food boxes, and encourage healthy lifestyles,” said Lydia.

Stanward and his daughters Alyssa (center) and Selena (right) with the bounty of food collected in 2019 during his annual Punalights show.

Since 2008, Stanward Oshiro has brightened the holidays for Hawaii Island residents with an extravagant music and light display at his home in Hawaiian Paradise Park and decorating our employees’ Toys for Tots train that appears in holiday parades. Today, the elaborate 45-minute light show known as the “Punalights” display has become a beloved island tradition featuring more than 13,000 twinkling lights synchronized to holiday tunes. The light show also has become a platform for the Oshiro family to raise awareness and collect donations for The Food Basket, which seeks to end hunger in Hawaii County. “I am choosing the Hawaii Food Basket (to receive the grant) because I have been collecting donations for them through my Punalights Christmas Show since 2011,” said Stanward, who acknowledges that spectators have helped raise about $9,935 and provide 7,486 pounds of food for the nonprofit over that time.

Congratulations to all our Kokua Champions for their unwavering commitment to our communities!

Sharon Higa is a senior communications consultant and Hawaiian Electric Company.

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