Supporting communities enriches us all
by Donica Kaneshiro | April 20, 2022
At Hawaiian Electric, serving and supporting our communities is at the heart of our jobs, and volunteering is essential to that effort.
These days, our company’s culture of volunteerism is a given for many employees. Even when faced with the restrictions of the pandemic, our employees volunteered 3,555.5 hours in 2021, through creative events like a virtual food drive, online art auction, handmaking cards for seniors and propagating native trees to populate an Oahu forest.
But giving back wasn’t always an integral part of our company.
Today’s Education and Consumer Affairs department is the legacy of employees who sought to evolve with empathy to meet the needs of a changing world.
Back in the 1960s when Annie Freitas and Charlotte Kawazoe started working at Hawaiian Electric, our company was known for our team of home economists who would teach people to use their new electric home appliances at cooking classes.
They remember the Home Economics department conducting crowded lunch-hour classes in the King Street building auditorium on Oahu.
However, as families became more comfortable with electric technology, the department altered its focus transitioning into the Education & Consumer Affairs department. Charlotte took the role of director in 1989 and was tasked with shifting the focus of the department to educational partnerships and community outreach.
She decided to concentrate on becoming the “face of the company” and thought what better place to meet our customers than in neighborhood shopping malls.
Creating the company’s new HECO in Your Community program drew from the expertise of both the education and community service specialists. The traveling exhibits featured information on company initiatives, energy conservation and electrical safety presented in a fun and easily understood display.
Annie, who worked in billing at the time, volunteered frequently at the events and was a major recruiter of employee volunteers.
Annie said: “Before that, we weren’t too popular because the electric bill was high. But once we started doing the HECO in Your Community, the community found out we’re not just about us. We’re about the community as a whole. We showed our efforts.”
Curious shoppers flocked to the exhibit that was staffed by employees and their families. Annie also noted that every executive took a turn at supporting the popular program in person.
“It was a very, very big success, because employees would actually look forward to the next HECO in Your Community. It was fun to bring the kids out and bring their families out to volunteer,” Charlotte said.
Annie agreed. “The kids loved giving out small prizes — a pencil or pen, notebook or bags,” she said.
It wasn’t just the communities who would benefit from the program, but the employees learned a lot about their neighbors and what was important to them as well as about other departments in the company.
“To me, that helped make us become a family. Before that, everyone was more or less on their own. We were all in our own world,” Annie said.
Residents were happy to put a face to the utility and began to see our company as more than a bill in their mailbox.
“Being in the community made people understand the problems that the company ran into when there were storms and no electricity and how the guys worked hard to put it back up,” Annie said.
Charlotte said that volunteer hours were noted on annual performance reviews of merit employees. The initiative fostered so much good will in the community, it evolved into our current system of tracking our employees’ volunteer hours.
Annie and Charlotte’s volunteerism didn’t end when they left the company.
They are still connecting the company and the community through events, like last year’s Census virtual volunteering and the annual sale of the United Way fundraising cookbook.
And the legacy of the HECO in Your Community volunteering initiative lives on as our company continues to support community resilience and energy efficiency.
Donica Kaneshiro is a communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.