Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Ala Wai reimagined

September 11, 2018

I was excited to learn that we’re turning our attention to revitalizing the Ala Wai in Honolulu.

Ala Pono: An Ala Wai Crossing” is looking at the ways residents and visitors move between the neighborhoods of Waikīkī, Ala Moana, and McCully/ Mōʻiliʻili. The goal is to make our community safer and more convenient for people, bicyclists, and motor vehicles, including emergency personnel.

Pedestrian bridge. I can envision a pedestrian bridge spanning the Ala Wai. A beautifully arched white bridge, similar in architecture to the smaller bridges at Ala Moana Beach Park, could add a feeling of elegance and historic charm to the canal. Or a clear plexiglass bridge, an ala aopua‘a (cloud path), could connect land, water, and sky and create a sense of freedom and awe.

But the “Complete Streets” project wouldn’t be complete without reimagining the Ala Wai. As it is, the canal is minimally landscaped and functional. But it could be so much more.

Floating gardens. What if there were floating gardens along the canal? Aquatic plants could both beautify the canal and clean the water of carbon dioxide and algae.

Hanging gardens. What if we created hanging gardens, with trellises arching over parts of the canal or growing along canal walls? This could enhance the open spaces, create more privacy, and clean the air of carbon dioxide and pollutants.

Murals and sculptures. What if we built “art nooks” along pedestrian and bicycle pathways? By displaying the works of local Hawaii artists, we could give people a reason to leisurely walk or bike along the Ala Wai Canal, and something to talk about as they continue their journey.

Canoe rides. What if we created a student-run program to offer canoe rides between the Waikīkī Public Library and the Honolulu Convention Center? The canoe rides could include a cultural component with Hawaiian history or music and chant. While I am hesitant to suggest commercialization of the Ala Wai, this could offer an alternate method of transportation while giving high school students experience in business, management, and hospitality.

There are two public meetings this month at the Ala Wai Elementary School Cafeteria: on Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 1 pm and on Monday, September 24, 2018 at 6:30 pm. I encourage you to attend if you can, or share your ideas here and with Nicola Szibbo at

Do you live, work, or go to school in Waikīkī? What can you envision for the Ala Wai?


Four small ways to give

September 4, 2018

We all want to make a difference.

There are so many worthwhile charities and nonprofits to choose from, but many of us don’t have a lot of money to donate. Or maybe we aren’t ready to make a commitment through a will or trust.

Every gift matters.

We don’t have to wait until we’re “successful” or have a lot of money to support a cause we feel passionate about.

You’ve probably heard of these ideas before, but here are four small ways to give that can have a big impact.

Loose change. We can start small, by collecting loose change in a piggy bank and writing the name of a nonprofit on it. There are also bank accounts, debit cards, and credit cards that will “round up” our purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer it into a savings account.

Birthday gifts. The older we get, the less we need – and the more we can buy for ourselves. Instead of buying a gift or throwing a party, ask family and friends to donate to your favorite charity or nonprofit. Some social media companies will help us create a birthday fundraiser, set a fundraising goal, and may even make a small contribution.

Matching donation fundraisers. One of the easiest ways to make our donations go further is to contribute to a matching donation campaign. In September, we could choose the Foodland Give Aloha Campaign, which matches each donation up to $250,00 for all organizations combined. If we shop at Foodland or Sak-n-Save, we can make donations right from the check-out line. Golfers and golf fans might like this one: In November through January, we could choose the Aloha for Hawaii Charities Campaign, through the Sony Open in Hawaii, which gives charities a “bonus boost” if they raise at least $1,000 in donations.

Changing beneficiaries. We can give a donation in the future, without committing to a specific dollar amount today. All we need to do is name a nonprofit as a beneficiary on a checking account, savings account, or retirement plan. We don’t need a lawyer, we don’t need to specify an amount, and we can change beneficiaries at any time.

How do you give back to our community? Which charities and nonprofits do you support – and why do you support them?

Envisioning the future of Honolulu’s Primary Urban Center

August 21, 2018

What will Honolulu look like in 20 years? We have an exciting opportunity to be part of the conversation for Honolulu’s future!

The Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting is updating Oahu’s Primary Urban Center Development Plan, which covers the geographic area from Kāhala to Pearl City. Last adopted in 2004, the Development Plan is one of eight community oriented plans “intended to help guide public policy, investment and decision-making through the 2025-planning horizon.”

My first reaction to the Development Plan is that we should expand the geographic area. The current Primary Urban Center stretches from Kāhala to Pearl City. To would ensure better coordination and consistency of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) planning, we could consider including part or all of Central O‘ahu into the Primary Urban Center.

Beyond just improving existing infrastructure and buildings, I tried to think about the challenges and opportunities in the next 20 years. Here are my three favorite suggestions for Honolulu’s future:

1. Beautify roadways and concrete structures. Our first and last look at Honolulu is usually from the H-1 freeway and airport. To beautify the transportation corridors, we could incorporate design elements into the concrete structures along the roads and highways, with appropriate art and color. Designs could inspire (artistry), inform (cultural and historical themes), and/or provide directions (color-coded or patterned themes). For example, different colors or motifs could be planned for each ahupua‘a or geographic region. Design elements could be added to existing roadways, concrete walls, and barriers, and become a planning requirement for future roadway projects.

2. Plan for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Flying vehicles may be in use (or at least in street testing) sooner than we think. This could entirely change Honolulu’s urban skyscape. It could reduce traffic congestion, decrease road maintenance, and create a new set of concerns about licensing, privacy, air traffic, and air rights, and revising building codes to include landing pads. VTOL aircraft use could start with police and emergency personnel, enabling them to reach people in high-rise buildings and Hawaii’s mountain trails.

3. Study the feasibility of pedestrian walkways. To connect dense urban neighborhoods with commercial plazas, recreation facilities, and retail centers, we could begin planning for pedestrian walkways above ground-level. By building walkways at the third floor or upper levels, we could improve pedestrian safety and create more store-front opportunities for small businesses. It could also address concerns about flooding and provide alternatives for building evacuation during emergencies. This would be especially useful in dense neighborhoods like Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu.

If you’re interested in getting involved and sharing your ideas, the next pop-up events are scheduled for August 22 at Pearl City Library and August 23 at da Shop Books & Curiosities in Kaimuki. You can also join the conversation online and share your thoughts in the online community forum.

How do you think Honolulu will change in the next 20 years? What do you envision for Honolulu’s urban center?

Trading cars for bus passes and bicycles

August 7, 2018

There are more and more options to get around Oahu today. TheBus is a solid public transportation system. Uber and Lyft give us a choice of rides. There are more bike lanes and Biki racks. There’s even a car sharing service in Honolulu and Waikiki.

Maybe Oahu is ready to take the next step: trading cars for shoes, bicycles, and bus passes.

To encourage people to give up their cars and trucks, and encourage people not to purchase their own vehicles, we could come up with a trade-in program.

Here’s how it could work: A Hawaii resident and registered car owner with a valid Hawaii driver’s license, with a vehicle in working condition, would agree to sell or donate their current vehicle. They would agree not to purchase or register a vehicle for at least 10 years.

In return, drivers and their household, up to two adults and two youth living at the same residential address, would receive two benefits:

1) Free bus passes for 5 years. Currently, TheBus annual bus passes cost $770 per year for adults and $385 for youth ages 6-17. Total cost: up to $2,310 per year or up to $11,550 for 5 years. In Honolulu, if and when rail transit is complete, there could be an option to choose rail passes.

2) One free bicycle registration per person, which would be redeemed within the first 5 years. Currently, the City and County of Honolulu charges a one-time fee of $15 and a fee of $5 when transferring ownership. Total cost: up to $60.

If the car owner registered another motor vehicle in Hawaii within 10 years, the cost of any bus passes and bicycle registration fees that were waived would be added to the first year’s motor vehicle registration fee.

There are three main benefits to an auto trade-in program:

* Improved traffic. With fewer vehicles on the road, traffic would hopefully remain the same (it could possibly get better), decreasing our commute times. In 2015, there were 1,242,319 vehicle registrations in Hawaii, according to the US Department of Transportation; though not all of the vehicles are regularly driven.

* Longer-lasting roads, maybe. With less traffic, the roads might last longer, or need less frequent maintenance, or be repaired with less inconvenience to drivers.

* Easier parking. With fewer cars, parking might be a little easier to find, especially in areas like downtown Honolulu or Waikiki where parking is limited – and expensive.

The program would have an impact on the fees and taxes collected in Hawaii:

* Decreased driver’s license fees collected. This impact may be limited, as the driver’s license is a widely-accepted form of photo identification. Currently, the driver’s license fee is $40 for drivers ages 25-71 and is valid for 8 years. In 2015, there were 909,797 registered driver’s licenses in Hawaii, according to the US Department of Transportation.

* Decreased vehicle registration fees and vanity license plate fees collected. Motor vehicle registration for a mid-sized car in Honolulu might cost between $300 and $400 per year.

* Decreased gas taxes collected. In 2015, the Hawaii state tax rate on gas was $0.17 per gallon, plus general excise tax, and motor fuel use was 519,194 gallons, according to the US Department of Transportation.

* Decreased bus pass fees collected. Plus, we may need to add more buses. Currently, annual ridership on TheBus is over 68 million.

* Decreased bicycle registration fees collected. The impact would be nominal.

Two major questions would need to be answered: Can we afford this program? And what would we do with the automobiles that are traded-in?

Do you think this would be an effective way to reduce the number of cars on Hawaii roads? What would make you trade your car for a bus pass?

Walking through a life in the Dominican Republic

July 17, 2018

I’m always on the look-out for family events that are educational, free or low-cost, and nearby. I had never heard about The Compassion Experience before, but I was immediately drawn to the idea of showing people what it is like to live in poverty in another country.


When I told my family that I registered us for The Compassion Experience, they were skeptical. As we were walking through Chinatown in Honolulu, my husband told me, “We don’t need to go to the Experience. We can see poverty right here.”


Hawaii struggles with poverty and homelessness, but we also have strong social support programs and public assistance. I wanted to show my son what poverty could be like in developing countries. I told them it would take just 15 minutes of our time.


We pulled into the parking lot in mid-afternoon, immediately drawn to the large draped container emblazed with the logo. The tent was hot, even with a portable air conditioning unit running, and well-lit, with uniformed staff and volunteers. The tent walls featured information, photos, and maps of the Philippines and the Dominican Republic, where the two experiences take place.


As we waited, we learned that over 700 million people in developing countries live on less than $1.90 per day. In the Dominican Republic, 41% of people live in extreme poverty.


We checked in, received clean headphones and an iPod, and walked up the steps to through the curtain-draped opening to experience Jonathan’s Story of living in the Dominican Republic.


As we entered each room, which has a scene from his life, we listened to Jonathan’s words. He talked about selling fruit juice to earn money for himself and his mother (opening the small money box was one of the first things my son did), getting an education through Compassion International, pressure from local gangs to steal, and coping with his father’s anger and rejection. He highlighted the support of a special mentor who helped him turn his life around. We watched a video that showed Jonathan as an adult who has become a mentor himself.


The rooms re-create Jonathan’s childhood. There are worn shoes with cardboard soles, Dominican pesos in a money box, plates of beans and rice, posters in Spanish, and photographs. What really struck me was seeing hanging wall pockets filled – not with pencils or ID cards – but toothbrushes. It has some serious themes that may not be appropriate for young children.


I knew when I signed up that the Compassion Experience is a Christian organization with a child sponsorship program, but I was taken aback by how much Experience emphasizes God. I expected a stronger focus on poverty. The website tells us a little more – half of the country doesn’t have access to clean water or sanitary toilets. In rural areas, five out of ten children are school drop-outs. The poverty rate has been improving in recent years


As we left, I was a little uncomfortable by the push to sponsor a child. I think it would have been better to let the photos of children speak for themselves.


The Compassion Experience will be in Hawaii for the next few weeks. I think it’s a valuable way to teach children and remind ourselves that poverty is a global problem. We face the same struggles, have the same fears, and feel the same need to give and receive compassion. And with help, people can make their lives better.

Learning decisiveness in a no-merge area

June 19, 2018

Does this sound familiar: You take the most direct route and keep to the lane you need to be in, even if it’s slower. You get anxious when you need to cross multiple lanes of traffic or make a left-turn against on-coming traffic. You try to plan your route before you leave, because you need to know where you’re going.

That’s a description of my driving style. I’m a fairly cautious driver, and I usually take the same route to work every day. Because of the commute, I’ve become a lot more laid-back about waiting in traffic than I used to be.

Then one day I decided to take a different freeway onramp. And then I saw a worrying traffic sign: “No Merge Area.”

This caused me a small amount of panic. I watched the cars in front of me get stuck in traffic limbo, and nervously waited for my turn. But I wasn’t in a hurry, and rush hour was just getting started. I waited for a gap in traffic. And waited.  And waited. Only when I thought the “gap” between oncoming cars was safe enough did I step on the gas.

It was really stressful to accelerate to highway speed. I forgot that I was driving in “eco” mode, and felt the drag of the car as I accelerated. I kept looking in my rearview mirror, expecting to see the bumper of the car behind me. But I merged safely into traffic and everything was fine.

And because I was so anxious about it, and because my anxiety bothered me, I decided to take that onramp the next day. And the next, until I felt more comfortable with the onramp.

That “no-merge area” taught me a few things.

I learned to be patient, waiting for the cars ahead of me to safely enter the freeway, and waiting for an opening when it was my turn.

I learned to commit when I saw a safe opening, because merging too slowly is dangerous.

I learned that we can be decisive drivers and drive with aloha too.

Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself to do things that make you nervous. I could have decided to never take that onramp again. But I kept going, and that onramp has helped me be a little more decisive in other ways.

Do you avoid any freeway onramps or offramps? Do you ignore any uncomfortable situations? How have you tried to challenge those uncomfortable situations?

Lessons from a benefit dinner

June 5, 2018

I was nervous planning my first benefit dinner for our nonprofit organization. I’ve planned a few events before (family parties and a wedding, exhibit tables and trade shows), but never something that was supposed to raise money. I felt a lot of pressure to make the event memorable and successful.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to start from scratch. I could follow the event plan from previous events, with a few updates. The event taught me a lot about fundraising, planning, and expectations.

Here are five things I’ve learned from planning a benefit dinner:

Start planning earlier than you think you need to. The biggest thing I learned is that there is never as much time as you think. If you’re hosting a benefit dinner, you need to start “selling” tables, finding a Master of Ceremonies, and booking entertainment six to eight months in advance. We waited too long – not because we were over-confident, but because we had so much to do and limited staff. By that time, any organizations and groups already had plans, or could not make a commitment in such a short time.

“No” is not personal. At first, I was uncomfortable asking for silent auction donations. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t asking for me, I was asking for my nonprofit. It was hard to learn that “no” (or no response at all) isn’t personal. I won’t lie – it was never easy, but it got easier to make the ask.

Make a connection between donors and beneficiaries. I was really anxious about making a short speech, and I spent a huge amount of time writing and re-writing it. I knew that I didn’t want the speech to be about me or the organization. I wanted to focus not on our organization’s achievements, but on how our donors and supporters make our work possible.

You can’t thank people enough. It was really important to thank people for supporting us. We thanked donors and sponsors in the welcome speech and in the dinner program. We also took some time to do a thank you video. We asked each of our staff to say a few words, and put it together in a short video. It was a nice way for staff members to remember why we were there that night. And after most people went home, I surprised our staff and volunteers with a small handmade gift to show my appreciation.

Expect that not everything will go as expected. Event planners follow checklists, make schedules, and plan for contingencies. But at some point, you have to expect that not everything will go as expected. And that’s okay. For example, our silent auction was successful – everyone paid, everyone went home with the right items, and no one was angry. Only I knew that it didn’t go as smoothly as I planned.

At the end of the night, we cleaned up, packed up, and headed home. I knew that I couldn’t rest yet – small nonprofits can’t take breaks – but I was thankful that we came together as a team, pleased our guests, and made a positive impact on our beneficiaries.

Have you attended a benefit dinner or gala event? What are the most memorable and enjoyable fundraisers you attended? What do you wish more fundraising events would do?