It is time for my annual gifts-with-meaning column to consider gifts that deliver more of a wallop at Christmas than a bunch of new gadgets lying under the tree.

As in the past, I am localizing New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof’s annual guide to gifts-with-meaning to give it a Hawaii twist.

Kristof suggests that a gift that changes or saves a life is a more powerful holiday offering than another necktie or bottle of expensive perfume.

In Hawaii, a gift that boosts a battered woman’s confidence or helps a low-income child gain needed computer skills seems longer lasting than one more aloha shirt or another brightly colored Hydro Flask. Or even a gift card that may never be used.

I like to shine a spotlight on local charities that quietly go about their business of changing lives without making a big fuss. You might have a few of your own worthy favorites to mention in the comments section.

Volunteer dentist Dr. Brendt Lum working on a Welcome Smile patient in the dental clinic.

Courtesy of Aloha Medical Mission Dental Clinic

Aloha Medical Mission Dental Clinic

The Aloha Medical Mission is known for sending volunteer surgeons to foreign countries to help save and improve lives by doing operations for free on needy individuals. The mission also provides a critical service here at home; it offers Hawaii’s only free dental clinic.

And within that clinic at Palama Center in Kalihi is Welcome Smile, a program to provide partial and full temporary dentures for free to abused and formerly incarcerated women who have lost their teeth.

Mission executive director Toni Muranaka says restoring missing teeth helps a woman improve her health as well as regain her confidence and have a better chance of getting a job. There are not a lot of companies out there hiring people who have missing front teeth.

Since it started seven years ago, Welcome Smile has provided dentures to about 30 women each year.

When you think about it, isn’t it more exciting to give a gift in a friend’s name to offer a battered or fragile woman a better chance at life than presenting your friend another T-shirt?

Purple Mai’a   

How about making a donation to help a public school kid learn coding, app development and computer design to lead them to a better future in the ever-changing 21st century work environment?

The nonprofit Purple Mai’a pays computer specialists to provide after-school and elective courses at Hawaii’s public schools to help underserved students develop skills of the future.

Students being taught coding by a Purple Mai’a teacher at the Boys and Girls Clubhouse in Nanakuli.

Courtesy of William Evangelista

Local software developers Olin Lagon and Donavan Kealoha with grant writer Kelsey Amos formed the program five years ago when they realized the situation was bleak. Amos says advanced placement computer science courses were offered then in only three public high schools.

Now Purple Mai’a is offering classes at nine public schools with an emphasis on helping Native Hawaiians and all other students with limited access to computer instruction.

The name Purple Mai’a refers to the rare purple banana, which co-founder Lagon says is a fun name to describe what is rare and special about each young learner.

To make a gift donation in a friend or family member’s name to give a child a step up in life, go to the Purple Mai’a website.

The Women’s Fund Of Hawaii

The Women’s Fund of Hawaii is a dedicated but relatively unknown nonprofit with a single goal: to help women and girls. Donations to the Women’s Fund help create annual grants of  $5,000 to small innovative organizations that help women in unexpectedly powerful ways.

For example, among the Women’s Fund’s 24 grants this year was a $5,000 donation to a nonprofit called Girls on the Run Hawaii to help the program that’s already successful on Oahu triple its current offerings on Maui.

Girls on the Run enlists volunteer coaches, many of them avid runners, to guide girls in the third to eighth grades in 10-week after-school programs focused on building cooperation and confidence.

Girls on the Run teaches girls life skills through athletic endeavors including their participation in a 5K race.

Courtesy of Girls on the Run Hawaii

Leela Bilmes Goldstein, Women’s Fund executive director, says “I love Girls on the Run of Hawaii. Their mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running.”

At the end of the program, all the girls participate in a 5K run, which is something many of them never imagined they could do when they started.

When Girls on the Run began operating on Oahu in the fall of 2012, it had only one team of 10 girls. As of spring 2018, it was serving 16 teams and 206 girls, including one team on Maui.

Another Women’s Fund grant was given this year to Read to Haku Moolelo, a group of volunteers who go into the women’s prison at Kailua and help inmates stay connected to their children.

The volunteers, many of them retired teachers, teach female inmates how to write and illustrate their own story books for their children and then record the women’s voices reading their stories. The books and the tapes are sent home to the inmates’ children so they can hear their mothers reading to them whenever they want to listen. More than 100 prisoners have participated in the program.

Hope Services Hawaii

It has been more than seven months since the Kilauea volcano began erupting May 3. The eruption and a series of storms after have left many people on Hawaii Island in a continuing state of chaos.

“The lava has stopped flowing, but the rebuilding is far from over,” says Hope Services CEO Brandee Menino.

Tents and other makeshift shelters housing eruption evacuees are shown here in May at Pahoa District Park.

Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat

A pressing need for Hope Services now is for money to pay for the food the organization is providing for 45 families still living in two shelters. Many have lost their jobs and their vehicles and are having difficulty finding housing because of a limited inventory of available rentals.

“In order to help them hang on to their limited finances, we are buying food and partnering with restaurants to make sure they have access to healthy meals each day,” says Menino.

Hope Services Hawaii is an affiliate nonprofit organization of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the key charity on Hawaii Island working to find housing for displaced and homeless people.

A donation would help keep hot meals coming this holiday season to lessen the sense of upheaval some residents on that island are struggling with every day as they try to resume their normal lives.

Adopt A Beehive

For an annual donation, you can adopt a beehive at the University of Hawaii’s agricultural teaching farm at Panaewa outside of Hilo to help boost up the world’s declining populations of honey bees.

The program was created seven years ago by chef Alan Wong and UH Hilo entomologist Lorna Tsutsumi.  It is a worthy but little known cause I featured a few years ago and continue to admire.

The goal of Adopt a Beehive is to raise awareness of the importance of bees in food production and to focus on the threat bees are facing today internationally — and here — as more and more bee colonies have collapsed since the invasion of the varroa mite on Oahu in 2007 and in Hilo in 2008.

Donors check out the beehives they have adopted at the UH apiary in the teaching farm in Panewa outside of Hilo.

Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat

There are three levels of adoption: $300, $500 or $1,000 a year. At each level, a donor receives a shipment of fresh honey from the UH Hilo apiary, an adoption certificate and letters from a student beekeeper on the progress of the hive. Also, donors are invited to the teaching farm at Panaewa in the spring to see the beehives and they receive an invitation to Alan Wong’s Honolulu restaurant in the fall to a special meal featuring chef Wong’s honey-based creations.

Adopting a Beehive is not inexpensive, but its something you might consider as a gift for yourself or a close friend or family member. Donations are used for scholarships for beekeeping students and for research and development of healthy beehive practices to sustain today’s hives and create more beehives in the future.

Gift giving of the charitable kind is not only more impactful and longer lasting than giving material items, but it can also be fun and evoke good feelings of knowing you might have improved a life or changed the world around us.


Read the news article direct through Honolulu Civil Beat here.