Throughout the Islands, Hawaii Keeps Giving Back

The Editors | November 4, 2020 | People

Hawai‘i is known for its inherent sense of giving and community, and these organizations and people are just a few doing good throughout the islands.

Living Out a Legacy

For Maria Kawananakoa (mariakawananakoa.‌com), luxury realtor with Locations Hawaii (locationshawaii.‌com) and owner of Body Balance Honolulu (bodybalancehonolulu.‌com), giving is something that can not only help others, but can also help you achieve more harmony and wellness in your life. This wellness guru, alongside her husband, David (a descendant of the Hawaiian royal Kawananakoa family), says, “Giving back helps you emotionally; it drives happiness. Doing good makes you feel good. For me, it just feels better when you are giving than receiving.” That takes shape in the form of various causes for Kawananakoa, who herself is the embodiment of what it means to be a modern citizen of Hawai‘i (she speaks multiple languages and has Italian-Canadian citizenship). “We are involved with causes for the Hawaiian people, for the preservation of native Hawaiian culture. We work at keeping the traditions alive and caring for one another. We work to keep the legacy of aloha alive.” What that looks like is involvement in the Prince Kūhiō Hawaiian Civic Club (, which raises scholarship money for children; Hale o Na Ali‘i, which was founded by descendents of Hawaiian nobility to support keeping native Hawaiian traditions alive; and Iolani Palace (, the home of Hawai‘i’s last reigning monarch and now a museum dedicated to promoting and celebrating Hawaiian culture. There’s also the Bishop Museum (, the Hawaiian Humane Society ( and even a foundation the duo started in honor of David’s mother, Lila. “My husband’s mother lived in Mexico for many years, and when she passed away about two years ago, we set up a foundation for her called the Lila Kawananakoa Mexico Foundation to help Mexicans who are suffering from kidney disease and failure.” A focus in 2021: “helping kupuna. Old people are the most vulnerable, and children, and those are two areas I want to focus on,” she says.


Heart of It

Malia Benn heard about a teacher of hers going into cardiac arrest at school and being rescued by an automated external defibrillator (AED). The industrious preteen soon learned that most schools in Hawai‘i do not have AEDs, and she set out to remedy the situation through Heart Start Hawaii Foundation (, which she founded with her father, Trevor Benn. “My dad had a health scare when I was younger, so I had this fear of something happening to him,” she says. When coupled with what she heard at school, she was “adamant that my dad get an AED. I learned that while my school had 13 AEDs that had saved four people on campus, most schools don’t have any... so I started Heart Start Hawaii Foundation.” When money is donated for an AED, Malia creates a plaque that also gets installed alongside it, which she makes in ‘Iolani School’s Fab Lab. “So far we have raised over $100,000 and installed 45 AEDs in public schools on all islands,” she says. For his part, Trevor Benn says that this kind of thinking is par for the course for his daughter, who is now 18. “Malia has great empathy, and she also has an entrepreneurial mindset. If she sees a problem, she wants to try and solve it. We’ve tried to instill a sense of gratitude in her for what she has, and a sense of responsibility to others in need.” He sees her as a reflection of Hawai‘i’s youth in general: “Our children will be stewards of these islands and of each other in the future; they need to be able to identify the needs around them and act.”


Helping Hands

Azure Ala Moana and ProsPac Holdings Group donated $30,000 to the Hawai‘i Resilience Fund at Hawai‘i Community Foundation
(hawaiicommunityfoundation.‌org). The Hawai‘i Resilience Fund aims to rapidly offer resources to community organizations and healthcare providers. Feeding Hawaii Together (thepantry.‌org), Hawai‘i’s leading food pantry, teamed up with restaurant 53 By the Sea, Aloun Farms and Choyce Distribution to help provide frozen prepared meals for those who need them. Ward Village, along with Pacific Resource Partnership and AlohaCare, raised funds to create a new caregiver sanctuary at Queen’s Medical Center (queens.‌org) for frontline healthcare workers for them to recharge. University of Hawai‘i’s donation to Hawaii Foodbank (hawaiifoodbank.‌org) raised over $56,000 despite the university being closed. Shriners Hospitals for Children—Honolulu ( was a recent recipient of the 2020 Guardian of Excellence Award by Press Ganey, a nationally recognized symbol of achievement in healthcare, for its everyday impact on families in Honolulu, both pre-2020 and during this year. Ulupono Initiative (ulupono.‌com) has continued its work investing in the quality of life for Hawai‘i through locally produced food, renewable energy, clean transportation and better management of water and waste. Its most recent focuses include a $150,000 grant through Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation provided to the Hawaii Farm Bureau to help ensure student meals are 25% locally sourced by 2025 and partnering with Hawaii Energy to create an electric vehicle charging station bonus for affordable housing projects. Hawaiian Airlines (hawaiianairlines.‌com) continues its 20-year partnership with American Cancer Society (cancer.‌org) to fly cancer patients to treatment through its HawaiianMiles program.

Photography by: Courtesy of Maria kawananakoa; Trevor and Malia Benn photo courtesy of Heart Start Hawaii