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Virtual volunteer projects address real needs while staying safe

by Donica Kaneshiro | Dec. 8, 2020

From isolated seniors to hungry families to homeless people, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented need in our communities.

Just as they have always done, our employees have answered the call to community service even when faced with the challenges presented by the pandemic.

Over the last five years, our employees and their ohana have volunteered 71,164 hours of community service. One of the groups active in this effort is our General Counsel process area.

A few years ago, at the urging of Vice President, General Counsel Erin Kippen, the process area started a community service initiative under which each of its seven teams would lead at least one service project each year.

Plans were in place to continue that initiative this year. Then the pandemic struck and the teams had to pivot their plans to account for social distancing requirements and other safety measures.

“Everyone is juggling a lot right now — working from home, homeschooling kids and taking care of family members — but our team still devoted a lot of time to our community service projects,” Erin said. “I’m proud of my team and how they’ve come together, displayed creativity and adapted to the new circumstances.”

Instead of serving meals at the Institute for Human Services on Oahu, the process area, comprised of 47 employees, made sandwiches at their own homes and donated 777 of them for distribution to the hungry. Rather than volunteering to inventory donations at the Hawaii Food Bank, the team also collected funds and held a virtual food drive.

Going virtual with volunteering projects provided the opportunity for employees to participate regardless of where they live.

Leila Beals, supervising land agent on Hawaii Island, said she was grateful to be able to participate. “The Hawaii Food Bank fundraiser allowed us to choose what island we wanted to donate to so we could make a difference statewide,” Leila said.

Craig Yamasaki, supervising land agent on Maui, said he’s proud to be part of a company that values volunteerism and compassion. “During this pandemic, which has had such a severe impact on thousands of our residents, it becomes even more important for us to step up and offer our assistance,” he said. “We’ve had to come up with creative ways to effectively and safely offer our help.”

Marissa Owens, who led the sandwich project, said, “There are a lot of people out there struggling day-to-day, and so providing basic things, something so simple as a sandwich, it can really make a difference.”

Elaine Perry spearheaded a towel and toiletry drive for Project Vision Hawaii’s Hiehie mobile shower trailer. “There’s going to be more people losing jobs. There’s going to be more people houseless. I think if we can, we need to step up, maybe even more than before,” she said.

Michelle Wightman led a project in which the group created 115 inspirational greeting cards to distribute to seniors at Pohai Nani retirement community in Kaneohe. “I think now more than ever, it’s important for people to count their blessings and pay it forward in some way or another if they can,” Michelle said.

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The General Counsel process area has even more projects before the end of the year.

Their team plans to: adopt a family through the holiday Laulima Giving Program, supplying presents, household goods and gift cards; hold a COVID-prevention supply and school supply drive for public schools on Oahu, Hawaii Island and Molokai; and organize a fundraiser for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, following the success of their ceramic animal auction last year.

“I think there always will be those in our community that will need support at some time in their lives. That could very easily be any one of us, or one of our family members,” said Brendan Bailey, director of the Legal department.

“It’s obviously been a tough year for everyone in the state,” Erin said. “Many businesses have closed due to the pandemic and many people have lost their jobs this year. We’re fortunate to work for Hawaiian Electric. This year, more than any other year, it is important to us to help those who are struggling in our community.”

Wendy Takara, who led the virtual food drive, said: “It doesn’t hurt to make sandwiches or write a nice letter or something to make people feel good. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. A little bit goes a long way to a lot of people. We’re all part of a community and we all need each other.”

Donica Kaneshiro is a communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.

Our vision is to deliver cost-effective, clean, reliable, and innovative energy services to our customers.

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