Purpose-driven community service champions

Hawaiian Electric
6 min readJan 4, 2023

by Sharon Higa | Jan. 4, 2023

Helping others, paying it forward, serving and improving their community are common purposes that drive recipients of the 2022 Kokua Community Champion Service Award, a recognition for exemplary community service given by the HEI Charitable Foundation. The honor includes a $1,000 donation to the champions’ nonprofit of choice. Let’s meet my colleagues who epitomize what it means to live a purpose-driven life and learn about their chosen nonprofits.

Lane Hiramoto, left, directs volunteers as they set up light towers to power a nighttime West Oahu community event.

In the last decade Lane Hiramoto, Hawaiian Electric manager of generation services and this year’s sole male champion, racked up well over 300 hours of volunteer service. If you’ve ever been to a Waianae Sunset on the Beach or Kapolei Hale City Lights festival, Lane is the behind-the-scenes guy leading a team that provides temporary power and lighting for the beloved after-hours community events in West Oahu. He’s also a regular blood donor and often participates in charity walks to help raise funds for social causes.

For Lane, the positive influence of a mentor during his formative years meant all the difference in his personal development and shaped his approach to giving back. His chosen nonprofit, Na Keiki Mau Loa, likewise provides the guidance and life skills to help young athletes pursue their higher education goals.

“Through volleyball coaching and mentorship, Na Keiki Mau Loa is developing well-rounded individuals with the mental discipline, focus, perseverance, work ethic and team mindset who are better prepared to succeed in their futures,” Lane said.

Heather Villamil and her daughter joined 60 other employee volunteers to place native plants in the ground as part of the Malama Pupukea-Waimea’s Native Hawaiian Plant Coastal Restoration Project.

Those of us who’ve volunteered alongside Heather Villamil, an administrator in the HEI president’s office, know her adorable daughter will be sure to join in the fun. “Growing up, community service has always been special to my ohana and I’m truly grateful for the opportunities the HEI family of companies has provided for me to pass on this important value to my daughter,” said Heather. During her 12-year career at Hawaiian Electric and HEI, she has many fond memories and photos that capture the duo side by side volunteering at numerous events.

One event that stood out was a 2018 community workday to restore native coastal plants on Oahu’s North Shore working with the nonprofit Malama Pupukea-Waimea, Heather’s choice to receive the $1,000 donation.

“My ohana has spent many summer weekends at a friend’s beach house within walking distance to Shark’s Cove so this place holds a special place in our hearts. Malama Pupukea-Waimea’s great work aligned with its vision and mission will help ensure this beautiful place will be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Jill Yamasato, holding certificate, with Hawaiian Electric volunteers at the Best Buddies Friendship Walk held May 7, 2022. The company received the Top Corporate Team Fundraiser award, raising $8,100 through employee giving and corporate donations while demonstrating support of a more inclusive society for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

As the DEI & EEO program manager at Hawaiian Electric, Jill Yamasato raises the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplace and communities. “Giving back to the community has always been something I enjoyed since I was little — from painting playgrounds to ringing a bell during the holidays to raise money,” she said.

In 2022, the longtime volunteer also organized and led more than 200 employees to participate in seven community events that were enlightening and empowering. For the first time, company volunteers participated in the Best Buddies Friendship Walk, Honolulu Pride Festival and White Cane Walk, supporting diversity, equity and inclusion through community service.

Jill selected the Blood Bank of Hawaii for the HEICF donation because she’s unable to donate blood. “I’ve always wanted to, but I don’t meet a requirement. From what I’ve heard, it’s a simple and easy process. More importantly, it helps save lives. What an amazing gift to give someone!”

Tatiana Quong, left, and Kanekoa Shultz of Kakoo Oiwi during a community workday she organized on Aug. 27, 2022, in the Heeia wetlands of Windward Oahu. More than 70 volunteers came out for a day of service to weed and clear loi patches in preparation for new kalo plantings.

When she joined Hawaiian Electric’s Education & Consumer Affairs Department, Tatiana Quong seemed to me a poised and articulate cover model. But I quickly learned “Tati” was a mom of three girls and has a heart for community service. Since 2015, the senior community affairs consultant has participated in 42 volunteer events and led some novel volunteer projects. During the pandemic, Tati motivated Hawaiian Electric employees to create handmade cards for seniors at a care home so they in turn could write messages of wisdom for graduating high school seniors.

In selecting the Hawaii Nature Center for the HEICF donation, Tati reflected on how the nonprofit inspires generations to nurture and appreciate Hawaii in a safe environment. “My children and many others greatly benefit from their hands-on, science-based education. They came home enthusiastic about what they learned and wanted to become good stewards of protecting Hawaii. The work that Hawaii Nature Center does is so valuable as it places a kuleana upon all who enter its gates to protect, care for and appreciate Hawaii’s environment; a responsibility they carry with them for a lifetime.”

Alex Kelepolo and her son at a HWF beach cleanup in Kamilo; and with her daughter and son (Alex in dark green shirt at center of photo) at an Earth Day cleanup at Kamilo in April 2022.

A love of the outdoors and nature is Alex Kelepolo’s passion, which powers her desire to preserve, nurture and protect her Hawaii Island environment. As a land agent for Hawaiian Electric’s Hawaii Island operation, Alex keenly understands the enormous responsibility of land stewardship.

A passion project to collect and redistribute plastic bottle caps that are not recycled in Hawaii has led Alex to support community groups that work with local schools to educate keiki about the ramifications of plastic pollution.

In her spare time Alex and her ohana participate in beach cleanups with the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, her chosen nonprofit. “It’s important that we malama the aina and the oceans as we are truly blessed to live in Hawaii. HWF has actively supported conservation of Hawaii’s native wildlife for 26 years. By educating our keiki and community, cleaning our beaches and protecting our environment and native wildlife, they are making a difference in Hawaii for generations to come.”

Her compassion for vulnerable animals keeps Aimee Etterling up at night, but all for a good reason. As a volunteer with the Maui Humane Society since 2014, the customer energy resources program manager often opens her home to foster young and sick kittens. The care involves more than feeding and administering medicines at all hours of the day and night, but also checkups with the veterinarian, purchasing food, blankets, cat litter, toys and more.

“Aimee is a dedicated cat and kitten foster at Maui Humane Society and often takes more than one litter at a time. From bottle baby kittens to cats needing medical attention, Aimee has saved hundreds of animals through fostering and we’re grateful for her consistent dedication,” said Nikki Russell, MHS director of community outreach. “Her donation will continue to care for the lives of Maui’s homeless animals!”

Congratulations and hearty applause for all the 2022 Kokua Community Champion Service Award winners! Your steadfast purpose, dedication and commitment lifts up our communities.

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

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