Maui Welcomes Japanese Tsunami Survivors And Sammy Hagar Honors Keiki Heroes

For Japanese tsunami survivors, a little Maui sunshine and R&R could be just what the doctor ordered. But when your home has been destroyed, your work environment and way to make a living washed away, to say nothing of family and friends getting killed, showing up at the Red Cross to ask for a Hawaii Vacation could be out of the question. Aloha Initiative, a program led by the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui, is filling hearts with aloha by creating a network of partners to help

Japanese citizens devastated by the disaster to enjoy a bit of sunshine. They did this by providing a temporary warm nurturing home here with host families.

The first group of 68 Japanese citizens arrived on July 4 and were presented with leis and gifts at a welcoming ceremony held at the Honolulu Airport. Forty five of them stayed on Maui. Japan Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines offered discounted and free airfare to the participants. Originally Aloha Initiative was asking for gently used garment donations, but an outpouring of generosity from the public filled their needs within a week.

“We have accumulated so much clothing we are no longer needing to collect any,” said Lynn Araki-Regan, Aloha Initiative co-founder. “The Maui community has been so generous, even thrift stores have been donating to us. We are still seeking financial donations.”

Island Honda and Island Auto Center stepped up to provide 50 prepaid cell phones to Maui’s new guests. ”Because visitors may be out and about, we felt it was imperative for them to have the comfort and security of immediate communication access to their host families. Cell phones provide that important access,” said Anne Oishi, vice-president and general manager of Island Honda.
Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa is supporting the event as well as Aloha Initiative partners First Hawaiian Bank, Relativity Media, Mana Foods and the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui.

Araki-Regan and Michiko Ishida-Powers have founded the Aloha Initiative along with Keith Powers and Keith Regan with a mission to assemble a community of people who are willing to open their hearts and homes to some of the displaced citizens needing our support.

Sammy Hagar has a dream to help as many children as possible, starting with youth in Maui County. The well known Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrity has ties to Maui and his bar Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill, located at Kahului Airport, supports our local non-profit A Keiki’s Dream through the Hagar Family Foundation. Recently in a private ceremony at Mala Wailea, Hagar passed out awards honoring four individuals (called HEROES) from A Keiki’s Dream. “It feels wonderful to give back and help others,” Hagar said. “It’s not about me. A Keiki’s Dream is a grassroots, hands-on organization. Donations are direct to a child/family in need on a case by case basis.”

Everyone has challenges to face but when you are a keiki facing adult issues life can certainly seem overwhelming. A Keiki’s Dream is one of Maui’s outstanding non-profits that celebrates and recognizes these special Maui youths. Executive Director Darby Gill says the organization is honored to work with these heroic children and “we want to remind the community that we need to do a better job of standing up for children because every one is special.” Whether a kid’s dream is a trip backstage, learning to scuba dive or being a princess for a day, A Keiki’s Dream is there to make these desires a reality.

Mick Fleetwood and Shep Gordon were also on hand at the weekend awards ceremony. They were there to recognize the dream children Chance Esperanza, Taylor DeGuerra, Kathleen Antonio and Shelby Kahaleauki. They’ve shown the ability to move forward in life while overcoming the challenges they face, and make good decisions while remembering to “dare to dream.” A Keiki’s Dream believes dreams remind children who are mired in crisis that they are special, loved and possess the ability and right to dream. Having Hagar presenting awards and talking story with the kids really made them feel honored. “There are seven Sammy Beach Bar and Grill restaurants around the United States,” Hagar said. “Each one supports that local community. No ONE person can save the world, but we can help in the communities we live in.”

About the HERO recipients:

Chance Esperanza was featured recently in The Maui News. He was referred to AKD by his pediatrician because he had a seizure while swimming and was found unconscious in the ocean. They couldn’t get a pulse for an extended period and he was medivacked to Oahu and induced into a coma while given little chance of surviving. Every step along the way, he defied the odds and he has made a remarkable recovery. He is now attending classes at Baldwin High School.

Taylor DeGuerra, a senior at King Kekaulike High School, is the starting quarterback in football, the starting shortstop in baseball and a defender in soccer. He was referred to AKD after his mother deserted him and his brothers because of mental illness. His father was not in the picture. Most recently, one of his younger brothers was diagnosed with brain cancer, sending him and their grandmother to the mainland for two months. While they were away, Taylor was left to care for himself and younger brother. He ran the household while still maintaining his honor grades and his full sports schedule.

Kathleen Antonio was referred to AKD after her father killed her brother in a night that escalated out of control. She witnessed it all and then had to testify in court against her dad. Her otherwise normal life turned upside down in an instant. The story was carried heavily by the local media while she wanted to hide and forget it all. She is now claiming back her life and moving forward. She is involved in sports at Maui High School and maintains a positive attitude in spite of all that she has endured.

Shelby Kahaleauki is one of AKD’s best volunteers. She often gives back to AKD–volunteering at information booths, children rallies, helping with mailings, etc.–whenever and where ever she is needed. Often, her family and siblings help, too. She comes from a tight single-parent household (where dad is not in the best of health) that includes six kids, but they focus on family, education, sports and volunteering for the community. ■