Dianne Callister, executive director of Project: GIVE, has had a hand in directing millions of dollars to service projects around the world, and Project: GIVE is her latest endeavor. Callister’s philanthropic life began in adverse conditions, and her story is inspiring. Abandoned as a baby at a Salvation Army hospital in Los Angeles, Calif., Callister spent time in foster homes before finally being placed with a wonderful family of admirable role models who provided her with a solid education.
“I realized early on that opportunity is something that needs to be a priority for our youth and turned my focus to making a difference in that area,” she said. “Project: GIVE is a unique program offering up to $5,000 in grants to middle school–aged youth to use to solve problems in the world around them.” Callister explained, “Students form a team who analyze how they want to use the funding they are given to solve community problems and make their world a better place.”
So how did Kīhei Charter School end up on Project: GIVE’s map? Typically, schools apply through the organization’s Website, but a tie to Maui prompted Callister to seek out schools here on the Valley Isle. “I have a dear friend, Julie Hatch, who is a part-time resident of Maui, and she was very concerned about the current crisis of funding within the public school system in Hawai‘i,” she said.
Kīhei Charter School’s Dan Kuhar advises students how to conduct their new community beautification business, a student-driven project sponsored by Project: GIVE.
Dan Kuhar, lead facilitator of the Kīhei Charter School Teams Academy and advisor to the students participating in Project: GIVE, said, “The cool part is that they found us. We’ve been doing service projects for years and years and years, and have a good relationship with a lot of the ongoing service project leaders throughout the community. So, they found us through word of mouth.”
The program is student-driven, so it took some time for the 106 seventh- and eighth-graders to reach a consensus regarding their project’s mission. In comparison to other middle school students around the nation, “Maui students seem to be very interested in environmental issues and protecting their beautiful island,” noted Callister. “[After voting on different ideas], the four that came to the top were: removing invasive species and planting native species, graffiti removal, supporting the [Maui] Humane Society and supporting the [Maui] Food Bank,” said Kuhar.
The students were torn between trying to solve all of these very important problems around them, he said, so they developed an idea that would be able to accomplish all these goals. “They merged the four into one community beautification business,” explained Kuhar. “This way, we can do the painting and the restoration, and then, with the proceeds that are donated to us, we can ‘re-donate’ to the local charities.”
The first job the students had was to help restore the South Maui Coastal Heritage Trail, followed by mulching the dunes at Charley Young Beach. Bob and Lis Richardson of Hoaloha ‘Aina, a local volunteer organization, have been avid supporters of Kīhei Charter School and helped the students to secure their first job. As a result of their hard work, the children received donations from the Kīhei Community Association and the Rotary Club of Kīhei-Wailea, and now have money in the bank to “re-donate” to charities of their choice. Project: GIVE’s generous donation, combined with the student-driven component of the program, has reaped tremendous rewards for the children. “The learning is happening in building toward the answer to the problems [that the children have defined],” said Kuhar. “We’re trying to train them that this is the right thing to do—teach them that they want to be part of the solution, not the problem… empowering them with money and allowing them ownership has been great, because a sense of pride comes with it. When we go to work, they work. It’s genius.”