In the spirit of the holidays, let’s revisit old friends and acquaintances – nonprofit organizations that have shared their stories in HANO columns over the past two years.

True to the nonprofit spirit, these organizations continue to move forward, often in new directions, as they adapt to challenges and find creative ways to fulfill their missions. Together, they demonstrate by example why the not-for-profit community is one of Hawaii’s most valuable assets.


When we talked with Kupu CEO John Leong in July 2018, he was excited about the nonprofit’s big capital project, its new headquarters on land it leases from the state at Kewalo Basin. That project, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Ho’okupu Center, is now open for business. In addition to offices and meeting facilities, it houses a culinary program that provides real-life experiences for its members.

“The program has steadily grown over the year and is changing lives,” Leong said. “We anticipate that the lifetime earnings of the members we will serve over the next three years will increase by $30 million due to the training, certificates, diplomas and other programming at the center.”

Kupu has served more than 4,000 young adults since its founding in 2007, helping them to complete their education, turn their lives around, and find successful careers while working to improve the environment. It estimates that it has contributed more than $130 million in socio-economic benefits to Hawaii and the Pacific. It also has expanded its programming to American Samoa, Midway and California.

Go to for more information.

Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center

The nonprofit center for children in Kakaako’s Waterfront Park continues to add new experiences for Hawaii’s keiki as it expands its “rainbow bridge” to Asia.

A grant from the Freeman Foundation this past year enabled the center to redesign its Rainbow World gallery to focus on East Asian countries, and in the process has opened the eyes of adults as well as children, the center’s founder and board president Loretta Yajima says.

“As the children engage in play – cooking Chinese food, making sushi, or dressing up in beautiful traditional Korean Hanbok – parents and grandparents seize the opportunity to share stories about what their lives were like growing up in the countries where our ancestors grew up,” Yajima said.

Perpetuating cultural customs and traditions has been one of the center’s missions for more than three decades. And others have taken notice.

“Government officials in China recognized this and we became the impetus for what they call early childhood revolution,” Yajima said, noting that the Chinese have opened children’s discovery centers in Beijing and Inner Mongolia based on the Hawaii model. “For the past nine years we have been introducing families there to the value of play and learning that happens in a children’s museum. More importantly, we have built a bridge of friendship, which our colleagues call a rainbow bridge between our two countries … connecting the world through our children.”

Go to for more information.

Responsive Caregivers of Hawaii

Michael Marsh was new to Hawaii and to his job when we chatted about 14 months ago. He had moved to the Islands for personal reasons and was preparing for a career in real estate sales when the position of president and CEO of Responsive Caregivers of Hawaii opened up. He saw a perfect fit for his experience as president and CEO of the Toledo, Ohio, Fair Housing Center, and the local nonprofit’s board agreed.

In Ohio, Marsh, a self-described civil rights activist, saw how people with disabilities were discriminated against in the housing market. In Hawaii, he heads a 44-year-old organization that provides day-care activities and residential facilities for adults with developmental disabilities.

RCH is a member of an organization focused on person-centered care, which Marsh describes as “a way of thinking and doing things that sees the people using health and social services as equal partners in planning, developing and monitoring care to make sure it meets their needs.”

RCH also has launched learning stations at its adult day-care facilities in Kapolei. Participants can choose among music/dance, physical exercise, arts and crafts including the culinary arts, and technology.

“This new program is designed to encourage some of our community’s most vulnerable adults to discover their talents, cultivate their interests, nurture their skills and interests, and actualize their joy and the fullness of their lives,” Marsh said.

Go to for more information.

Hawaii Foodbank

This was a year of change, evolution and growth for Hawaii Foodbank, which gathers and distributes food for approximately one in eight residents of Oahu and Kauai. That is what President and CEO Ron Mizutani envisioned when we talked a year ago.

“We expanded our reach in several rich and meaningful ways with a strategic focus on addressing child hunger in Hawaii,” he said.

To that end, the Food 4 Keiki School Pantry that launched in May 2018 at Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School has expanded to 18 schools on Oahu and Kauai. Hawaii Foodbank is working with the state Department of Education to identify needs and find ways to feed more keiki, students and families in the coming year, Mizutani says.

The former TV journalist, who joined Hawaii Foodbank as president and CEO in April 2018, promised from the beginning that public policy and advocacy would be part of the nonprofit’s mission, and that is happening.

“We are already working with the Hawaii Farm Bureau, Feeding America and other local stakeholders to help create policies that will better support our local farmers,” he said. “We believe that providing incentives will not only increase their yields, it will also help our communities become more self-sustainable.”

Go to for more information.

Ho’ala Foundation for Education

The small nonprofit that was founded in Hawaii is making progress in getting its model of social emotional learning into the hands of more teachers and administrators, in Hawaii and around the world, Executive Director Nancy Barry says.

The model, which was created more than three decades ago, is called Awakening Wisdom, an education system based on the four Rs of Responsibility, Respect, Resourcefulness and Responsiveness. Teachers and students see themselves as partners in education rather than the “sage on stage” concept found in many classrooms. Teachers and students are taught how to resolve conflicts before they escalate. And parents become part of the education process.

Awakening Wisdom has been the education model in three schools: Ho’ala School in Wahiawa, River School in California, and an international school in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Under Barry’s leadership, it is expanding its presence into more traditional schools.

For example, it held eight training sessions for more than 140 teachers and administrators from nine schools, conducted a one-day training session for 96 specialists from the state Department of Education, and launched online coaching for educators. Goals for the new year include teacher training on the Neighbor Islands, publication of an Awakening Wisdom training manual, and hiring a full-time executive director.

Barry, a former educator, sees the Awakening Wisdom concept as one way to address the problems facing America’s schools: rising suicide rates among teenagers, teacher burnout and shortages, and lack of progress in core areas such as math and reading.

“That is why we continue to work so hard to get Awakening Wisdom into Hawaii’s schools,” she said.

For more information about the Ho’ala Foundation for Education and Awakening Wisdom, contact Barry at

Dr. Rosita Leong Mini-Medical School on Healthy Aging

The big news for this highly popular program is that Dr. Virginia Hinshaw, its founder and leader, is retiring next summer. Replacing her is Dr. Kamal Masaki, chair of the Department of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, also known as JABSOM.

Hinshaw announced her upcoming retirement to Mini-Medical School attendees earlier this year. The chancellor emeritus of UH Manoa also is a professor in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology, and Pharmacology at JABSOM.

Masaki has been a popular presenter at previous Mini-Medical School sessions. Hinshaw calls her “a great choice” to continue the program.

The Mini-Medical School is a collaboration of JABSOM, the UH Cancer Center and the UH Foundation. It has attracted more than 2,000 attendees to its spring and fall sessions since 2014 and, because topics vary from year to year, many have attended multiple classes. The 2020 sessions already have long waiting lists.

The sessions are free to participants thanks to pro bono presenters, Dr. Leong’s endowment and hundreds of donors, including Barry and Virginia Weinman as new presenting sponsors. The curriculum is designed to help attendees make vital decisions on how they can remain healthy in their later years.

This is especially important in Hawaii where residents 60 years of age and older will soon account for a fourth of the state’s population.

“Impacting information from the lectures is continually being shared with the public,” Hinshaw said. “In addition, the participants actually become teachers of healthy aging for others.”

For more information, contact Hinshaw at

Mediation Center of the Pacific

This four-decade-old nonprofit is experiencing first-hand the stresses of modern society. As of December 10th, it had opened 1,641 new cases this year, 618 of them involving domestic issues, and had conducted 4,275 hours of mediation.

“While the cases we mediate have become more challenging with higher emotions and more fixed positions, we continue to see an increase in the number of new cases that we managed during the year,” said Executive Director Tracey Wiltgen.

The MCP relies on approximately 150 trained mediators who work without pay to resolve disputes before they escalate. Examples are divorces and separations of unmarried partners with children, and landlord-tenant disputes.

Working with Aloha United Way, the MCP has expanded the Early Access Landlord-Tenant Mediation program that encourages landlords and tenants to seek mediation when conflicts arise.

“Through mediation, tenants were able to remain in their residence, or were given sufficient time to find a new place to live, thus avoiding living on the streets,” Wiltgen said.

The center also is educating others about the value of mediation in resolving conflicts. It is working with school principals and vice principals, majors and captains in the Honolulu Police Department, the staffs of assisted-living facilities, and the state Department of Labor, among others.

“By learning and using mediation skills, these organizations are now reducing the cost of internal conflicts and creating more productive work places,” Wiltgen said.

The center also launched an online mediation program for small businesses, landlords and tenants this year.

“Through a secured portal, mediation participants virtually work through their differences without leaving their homes or offices,” Wiltgen said.

For more information, contact Wiltgen at

In this monthly feature, former newspaper editor and columnist Jim George visits with organizations that make up Hawaii’s not-for-profit community. He can be reached at

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