GIFT Foundation – A Vanity Affair

The stage is set for a big-time production reminiscent of the films of old, when audiences oohed and aahed over the real-life performances of the actors rather than the fabrications created by CGI and computer animation today.

Which is exactly what The GIFT (Giving Inspiration For Tomorrow) Foundation of Hawaii hopes to bring back into the spotlight at its annual benefit gala next Friday night, Oct. 30 – the actions of people.

This year’s beneficiaries are a trio of do-gooders whose nonprofit organizations in one way or another support Hawaii’s youths and their families.

“The topics and issues these three address are just important elements that fill a really dire need right now in our community,” says board member Nate Smith, “and they’re headed up by executive directors who are really phenomenal and would ensure the success of the organizations through funding from the The GIFT Foundation.”

And now, the envelope please … * Family Promise of Hawaii is a program created in 2006 to help families escape homelessness. Its mission is to mobilize existing community resources to help families transition from homelessness to sustainable independence.

“You know that there’s a big problem with homelessness here in Hawaii; what you might not have known is 25 percent of all homeless individuals are children, most of those under the age of 6,” says executive director Kent Anderson. “Our real goal is to help homeless families with children move out of homelessness and into a home of their own as quickly as possible so that their keiki can have the same opportunities the rest of us have.”

Anderson came to the Islands in 2002 after serving as business adviser for the Tonga Development Bank as part of a tour with the Peace Corps. After successfully helping businesses both big and small in the Pacific nation, he was asked by the Kingdom of Tonga to “fix” its taro farm on the North Shore that had lost millions of dollars.

“I cleaned some things up, improved operations and paid off all debts,“Anderson recalls. “After completing my contract, I discovered Family Promise of Hawaii. I was a total believer in the philosophy that serving with the community is the best way to help homeless families with children. I liked the idea of using volunteer labor and preexisting facilities to do more with less.”

According to the Florida native, this model allows the organization to operate at one-third the cost of traditional shelters because all meals and most of the labor are provided completely by community volunteers from a network of churches.

“We partner with 65 interfaith congregations to shelter, feed and support homeless families with children,” he explains. “Our volunteers do one of four things: They cook, they eat, they talk story or they sleep, yet by doing that and by being willing to share their time, most of our families move out of homelessness and into housing.”

Since opening its Windward shelter in 2006 and Honolulu shelter in 2007, more than 80 percent of Family Promise of Hawaii’s “guests” have secured housing, usually within three to four months. In 2008, the nonprofit was recognized by the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives and the City and County of Honolulu. The recognitions continued this year, as the group was named a finalist for the Cades Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Award and earned the much-sought-after distinction of being a GIFT Foundation beneficiary.

“My reaction to learning we were a beneficiary of The GIFT Foundation was, ‘Wow, this is awesome!’” Anderson says of this most-recent honor. “There’s just this real spirit of love and giving, and they’re fun too! I mean, it’s like, hey, let’s have fun and party with a purpose. I mean, who doesn’t like to have a good party, and with this, you can have a party for good.” * Another relatively newcomer on the nonprofit scene is After-School All-Stars Hawaii. Based on the national After-School All-Stars program, the local chapter began this year as a means of engaging middle school children in comprehensive, fun and safe activities after they leave the classroom.

On board from the start was Dawn Dunbar, who had the privilege of touring the Los Angeles chapters at a middle school in South Central LA.

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