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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 30, 2003

How your giving can help change people's lives

By Kelvin H. Taketa

The bell ringers are out around town, appeals are being made through the mail and over the telephone, and trees in the shopping malls are adorned with the wishes of the elderly and children in need. The season of giving is in full swing, reminding us that the American tradition of giving and sharing — particularly here in Hawai'i, where giving and sharing are intertwined with the aloha spirit — is alive and well.

Like those who came before us, we never really know just how much of a difference we make through our actions. In some ways, giving is an expression of faith that even the subtlest of gestures can bring hope and meaning. It can also encourage the charitable spirit in others. Every day, people take steps to make our Island home a better place.

A perfect example of this philanthropic ripple effect is the story about Teresa Hughes and Puni Kekauoha. Although they never met, Puni was one of many who benefited from Teresa's generosity and just as important, inspired Puni to give back as well.

A budding opera singer, Teresa Hughes came to Hawai'i at 18 from New Zealand in 1880. She ended up singing her way into people's hearts. During the final days of the Hawaiian monarchy, Teresa was known as Honolulu's only haole opera singer. She was also a member of Queen Lili'uokalani's famous quartet and composer of many songs of old Hawai'i.

Teresa was active in philanthropic work in the community. She was one of the first board members of the Kapi'olani Maternity Hospital, and founding member of the Catholic Ladies' Aid Society.

Teresa died in 1937 at age 74. She is remembered as one who gave of her talents generously and graciously. "Benefactor of the poor" is the inscription on her tombstone in Nu'uanu. A large portion of her estate was willed to charity, including a trust to support charitable organizations. Teresa's spirit and life ideals live on through this trust, which continues to help those who are poor and are without benefit of family or other support systems.

A few years ago, Puni Kekauoha was a single mom and needed financial help to send her child to preschool. A friend told her about the Teresa F. Hughes Trust, and although she was doubtful that she'd receive anything, she went ahead and applied.

To her amazement and gratitude, Puni ended up receiving a grant from the trust, and that was her introduction to philanthropy — that's when she realized that there were people out there who were helping others. It also was her introduction to a community grants program at the Hawai'i Community Foundation.

Through the program, Puni learned about the resources out there to help her community association in Papakulea, which she headed. She was instrumental in the formation of Papakulea's first nonprofit organization, Kula no na Poe Hawai'i, to address the educational needs of the area's children.

As president, Puni formed partnerships with outside agencies and worked to develop new leaders within her community. Always proud to call Papakulea home, she works to restore the sense of community from days of old and to improve the lives of family and friends there. Puni's leadership skills also led her to receive the Hawai'i Community Foundation's 2003 Ho'okele Award, which recognizes outstanding leaders in the nonprofit sector.

One person's giving inspires another. When these connections are made, we create an environment of greater optimism, where individuals will know that their involvement makes a difference. And it is the magic of making a difference that brings meaning to our lives.

Kelvin H. Taketa is president and chief executive of the Hawai'i Community Foundation. Reach him at kelvin@hcf-hawaii.org.