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Unsung Heroes of the Year

The Maui Weekly recognizes seven extraordinary “communitarians” who tirelessly—and quietly—transform the lives of others.

December 22, 2011
Sarah Ruppenthal , The Maui Weekly

According to the popular Website www.dictionary.com, "unsung hero" is defined as "a person who makes a substantive yet unrecognized contribution; a person whose bravery is unknown or unacknowledged." As you will see, this aptly describes the seven finalists for this year's "Unsung Hero of the Year" Award.

Colleen Wallace

It's one thing to be the executive director of a nonprofit organization-but it's another thing entirely to be its sole employee. Such is the case with Colleen Wallace, who has served as executive director of the Mental Health Association of Maui County (MHA/Maui) for two decades. Friends and colleagues say that Wallace demonstrates a passion to help children and adults who suffer from mental illnesses achieve respect and dignity-and the opportunity to develop their full potential.

Article Photos

Colleen Wallace, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Maui County, demonstrates a passion to help residents who suffer from mental illness.

"Contributes behind the scenes, works tirelessly without formal recognition and makes a positive impact on our community on a daily basis," said Cathryn Kelley Smith, a volunteer with MHA/Maui. What is remarkable about Wallace, she said, "Is the power of her words her words flow with a gentle grace from a well of expertise, intelligence and compassion Colleen is exceptionally precise in whatever careful choice of words she makes." Above all, Smith said; "We are blessed to share our Maui home with such a person." We couldn't agree more.

To learn more about the Mental Health Association in Maui County, visit www.jwcameroncenter.org/mha.cf.

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Andrew Park Sr.

He may not be one of Maui's movers and shakers, but Andrew Park Sr. has been doing exactly that-albeit quietly-behind the scenes for many years. Born and raised in Hana, the 69-year-old father of seven worked as an attendant and a heavy equipment operator at the Hana County Landfill, receiving the Employee of the Year Award for beautifying the area with rock walls and recycled plants, fruit trees and flowers that would otherwise have gone to waste. Although he retired nearly seven years ago, Park is an active community volunteer, continuing to use his eye for design to beautify the grounds of Hale Pomaika'i, the first-of-its kind communal dialysis home in Hana. When he's not volunteering at Hale Pomaika'i, it's likely you will find him quietly working at St. Peter's Church cemetery in Pu'uiki, mowing, raking, weeding, trimming trees and planting flowers on the graves of loved ones. According to his eldest daughter, Lehua Cosma, he often makes a special trip to Kahului to purchase beautiful flowers for the cemetery.

"I witness firsthand my father's love, pride and dedication as a volunteer committed to his community of Hana," said Cosma. "I believe he is so deserving of the Unsung Hero Award [and] we are so blessed to have such a wonderful and incredible person in our lives who is bringing great difference to the people of Hana."

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Linda Howlett

It's no secret that nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the time, talent and treasure of their volunteers-and it's often rare to find an individual who possesses all three of these attributes. However, the Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA) has a "diamond in the rough" volunteer, and her name is Linda Howlett. Since 1980 (when it was known as "Maui Youth Theater"), Howlett has served as both the president and secretary of the MAPA, and has organized and supplied volunteers for every MAPA Garden Party fundraiser since its inception 23 years ago. In addition, she and her husband, Jim, have tirelessly volunteered as the house managers at Steppingstone Playhouse for six years.

As if that weren't enough on her volunteer "to do" list, when Maui Youth and Family Services (MYFS) started its Growing Dreams program 11 years ago, Howlett accepted a position as the volunteer coordinator and-but wait, there's more-she has volunteered at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center (MACC) since 1994, assisting with both the Maui Calls and Barry Fest silent auctions. According to friend and colleague Paul Janes Brown, "All told, Linda has been a volunteer for 89 years; more than three-quarters of a century." Brown said Howlett has been integral to the success of MAPA, MYFS, Barry Fest and the MACC. "She is one person who is always ready to help," he said. "There is no one more unsung and more behind the scenes than the volunteer coordinator we want to recognize her for the service she has been giving to these organizations, and to the Maui community."

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Lori Williamson and Meghan Wall

According to Hospice Maui Social Worker Layla Lyons McCann: "A day in the life of a Hospice Aid can include various tasks, including bathing someone who cannot bathe themselves, helping someone change their linens who can not get out of their bed and providing companionship during a time when others may become distant the simplicity of their tasks is in no way equal to the benefit experienced by the patients, who are no longer able to tend to their own needs." There may be no other words to better describe true compassion-something Hospice Maui Aides Lori Williamson and Meghan Wall demonstrate every day. "I have been fortunate enough to witness the beauty of compassion on a regular basis," said McCann, "Their work is behind the scenes, and is often unnoticed by the greater public."

Williamson and Wall not only impact the lives of their patients, but also the families of their patients, who are often overwhelmed and unable to provide care themselves.

Without question, it takes a very special kind of person to work in hospice, and Williamson and Wall are no exception to this rule. They are two of Maui's unsung heroes, said McCann, "Because I have witnessed the gentle respect, care, and comfort that they have giving to dying people in the Maui community."

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Bob and Harriet Collopy

When their son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Bob and Harriet Collopy took action-embarking on a mission to educate others about mental illness. For several years, the couple has selflessly volunteered to teach a 12-week-long "Family-To-Family" course sponsored by the National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI). Bob, a retired psychotherapist, and Harriet, a social worker, designed the course to give residents the tools to understand and manage a range of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder (or, manic depression), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder and co-occurring brain disorders and addictive disorders. The Collopys teach the biannual course together, without compensation, at the J.W. Cameron Center. They also sponsor a monthly potluck dinner and support group meeting at their home in Pukalani to support graduates of the course-and for those who care for a mentally ill loved one, but who were unable to attend the course.

According to friend and colleague Robert A. Collesano, "They have touched many people's lives, and probably saved some as well." With a mental health system that is sorely under-funded, many believe the Collopys offer an invaluable and-quite possibly-life-saving service. According to friend and colleague Robert A. Collesano, "They have touched many people's lives, and probably saved some as well." To learn more about NAMI, visit www.namihawaii.org.

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Margaret Enomoto

In October, the County of Maui Department of Housing and Human Concerns' Volunteer Center honored Margaret Enomoto with its "Volunteer Hero of the Quarter" award-and it's easy to see why. For nearly 16 years, Enomoto has volunteered countless hours at Na Hoaloha-Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a local organization that assists senior citizens so that they may remain in their homes as long as possible. According to Na Hoaloha-Neighbors Helping Neighbors Executive Director Gerri Shapiro, the mission to help Maui's elderly and homebound drew Enomoto's interest, and she felt "really blessed that I am able to live out my Christian calling by doing volunteer work with those in need the rewards are great, and I have a purposeful life."

Shapiro said Enomoto has directly assisted more than 15 frail, homebound elders over the past 15 years, and currently assists eight seniors with transportation, chores, shopping, errands and in-home assistance. During the past year, Margaret provided over 700 hours of service. "Based on the nationally recognized rate of the value of volunteer service (a rate of $21.36 per hour) she saved the County of Maui close to $15,000," said Shapiro. But more importantly, Enomoto said, "I enjoy seeing the joy in the faces of care-recipients when they can do activities with a little assistance empowering people to be more self-sufficient is a great part of Na Hoaloha's mission."

 
 

 

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