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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 4, 2010

Ching Foundation steps up Isle giving

BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer


Founded: 1967

President: Steve Gilley

Trustees: Raymond Tam, John Tsui, Kenneth Okamoto, Catherine Ching, Peter Ng

Assets: $132 million from sale of Kukui Gardens housing complex in 2009

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When the Palolo Chinese Home was building a three-story addition to its Kaimukí campus, the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation stepped up to the plate.

At a time of government funding cutbacks and dwindling private charitable donations, the Ching Foundation offered a five-year, $2 million grant that helped the center expand its nursing home facilities from 15 to 61 beds and build a state-of-the-art food services facility for seniors.

"We're really indebted to them," said Darryl Ing, the Palolo Chinese Homes' CEO.

"We're really happy that Clarence Ching established this foundation to help needy organizations like the Palolo Chinese Home."

Founded in 1967, the Ching Foundation is a charitable foundation established by the late developer Clarence Ching, who built housing subdivisions in Moanalua and Salt Lake and constructed the 857-unit Kukui Gardens affordable housing project Downtown.

During its first decades in business, the foundation quietly contributed to local nonprofits and educational institutions such as Saint Louis School, Chaminade University and St. Francis Medical Center.

More recently, the Ching Foundation has become a major player in the local philanthropic scene thanks to a $132 million cash infusion from the controversial sale of the Kukui Gardens complex two years ago.

Since 2008, the Ching Foundation has committed about $33 million to charities and other nonprofit organizations in Hawai'i, according to the foundation's president, Steve Gilley.

Nearly three-quarters of the awards have gone to local private and public schools, whose educational and athletic programs have been hard-hit by the economic downturn.

Some of the more notable recent Ching Foundation grants include:

• $5 million to the University of Hawai'i-Mänoa in 2008 to help underwrite a $10 million makeover of the school's practice field, which has since been renamed the Clarence T.C. Ching Field.

• $3 million in 2008 to Punahou School's Partnerships in Unlimited Educational Opportunities, which takes 40 public school students every school year as fifth-graders at Punahou's Mänoa campus.

• $3 million to pay for Maryknoll School's new gym and community center in Makiki.

• $1 million to help fund a teacher training program at Hanahau'oli School's Makiki campus.

• $200,000 to help finance the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association's SOS Fund.

Ching, who died in 1985, was a big believer in education, Gilley said.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Ching was able to attend Saint Louis School after the school agreed to cover his tuition.

"This is exactly what Clarence Ching wanted us to do," Gilley said.

Robert Witt, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, said funds pledged by the Ching Foundation "will allow these schools to become more diverse, more affordable and more accessible."

They also will help the school attract contributions from other donors, he said.

"Clarence Ching was a man who believed that education is a prominent force for good in our society," said Witt.

"The investments being made by the foundation in a growing number of schools reflect Mr. Ching's belief that education is the most prominent force for good in our community."

Keith Amemiya, HHSAA executive director, said the Ching Foundation's $200,000 grant was instrumental in helping save high school sports in Hawai'i this year.

The Ching Foundation grant helped kick off the association's campaign to raise $1.2 million, which the association has exceeded by about $200,000, Amemiya said. Without the money, high school sports would have shut down at the end of next month, he said.

"People like the Ching Foundation and many other individuals and companies have literally saved high school sports this school year," said Amemiya.

Not all have been impressed by the the Ching Foundation's givings.

The Rev. Robert Nakata, who helped organize tenants who had opposed the sale of Kukui Gardens, said the foundation could go a long way in mending wounds created during the sale by funding a community center at Kukui Gardens.

Residents at the Chinatown complex initially opposed efforts to sell the low-income housing project when it was first announced in January 2006 over concerns that a new buyer would displace the mostly elderly tenants with higher-income buyers.

But a compromise was reached in December 2007 when buyer Carmel Partners of San Francisco agreed to sell approximately half of the property to nonprofit developers who would preserve most of the units at affordable levels.

"Giving something to the tenants would be a good gesture," said Nakata, a former state lawmaker.

Gilley maintains that the sale was done in the best interest of the foundation and that the buyers had always intended to preserve affordable housing units.

The $132 million sale price represented one of the largest real estate deals in recent years and was completed just before the global meltdown began to be felt in the state's real estate market.

"If we hadn't sold, we wouldn't be in business," Gilley said.

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