A Big Deal For Keiki

Makani Taniguchi, Chelsea Aspree, Kaulana Finn, Mark Oyama, Nicole Cowan, Erin Gaines, Reiko Matsuyama and Exodus Labanon are gearing up for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i’s Perfect Pairings fundraiser later this month.

Some of Hawai‘i’s top chefs will serve up their finest hors d’oeuvres this Friday during an event that benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i.

An evening featuring fine wine, live entertainment and pūpū by top chefs from O‘ahu, Maui and Kaua‘i awaits guests during Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i and chef Mark Oyama’s inaugural Perfect Pairings fundraiser, scheduled for this Friday (Aug. 30), at Kaua‘i Mariott Resort.

Last year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i celebrated its 10th anniversary alongside Oyama and Mark’s Place’s 20th anniversary.

“The event was so much fun that we decided to see if we could do it annually,” says Nicole Cowan, regional director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i.

Funds raised from Perfect Pairings will help the nonprofit foster matches like that of Big Sister Sara and Little Sister Aries. SABRYN RUDINOFF PHOTO

Chefs involved in the fundraiser include Tylun Pang, executive chef and director of food and beverage, Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui; Alan Wong, executive chef, Alan Wong’s, Honolulu; Guy Higa, executive chef, Kaua‘i Marriott Resort; and Gavin Onishi, executive chef, Contemporary Flavors Catering and Mark’s Place, Kaua‘i.

Oyama had always been a big supporter of organizations that serve the island’s keiki. Then, at the request of a friend, he chose to involve himself with the group.

“I have personally seen the impact the organization does for our littles,” he says. “It is inspiring to see how the mentorship affects their lives and gives them hope, security, guidance and honesty. How can you not support something like this?”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i offers both community and school-based mentoring programs islandwide for keiki between 6 and 16 years of age. Cowan describes the community program as one in which “Bigs and Littles” are matched in a one-to-one friendship based on gender, interests, personalities and geographic locations. She says volunteers are then carefully screened and trained to create a positive impact by sharing their friendship, guidance and support.

This Kaua‘i-based Little and Big are brothers in real life, though both have their own matches as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i’s school-based program.

Pairs meet at least twice a month to spend quality, oneon-one time together, and form meaningful memories just by hanging out.

“I often have parents of our keiki say to me that if it wasn’t for BBBS, their child would never get to experience a tubing adventure or ride along the beach path,” Cowan shares. “We also just had a Little Sister snorkel for the first time with her Big Sister, even though she’s lived on Kaua‘i all of her life.”

The school-based mentoring program offers elementary school students the opportunity to meet one-onone with a caring and responsible mentor (typically a high school student) in a supervised group setting after school, alongside other “Bigs and Littles.” There are on average 50-60 matches every year in both the community- and school-based mentoring programs.

For Cowan, a former case manager for both the school and community programs, “it is an honor to be able to provide these services for families on Kaua‘i. I never felt more joyous after walking away from a match meeting.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i’s regional board does a lot to move the organization forward.

Getting to see a relationship form from the very start is incredibly special. Watching a child blossom from simply having a caring, consistent adult in their life — that we were able to provide — is by far the most rewarding.”

According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i, over 90 percent of keiki involved in the mentoring programs improve in at least one of the following areas: better grades and scholastic competence; improved self-worth and confidence; and stronger relationships with classmates, family and friends. Keiki are less likely to be a bully or be bullied, more likely to graduate from high school and college, and more likely to avoid drugs, alcohol, gangs and school delinquency.

In describing the importance of the services provided, board member Kaulana Finn says, “Having been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters for nearly a decade, I have seen firsthand the impact of this mission. With the challenges that exist today, families often struggle with making ends meet and ensuring that their families have their basic needs met.

“I believe wholeheartedly that when children have a role model or adult that can provide them with the proper guidance, the sky is the limit,” Finn adds. “Each of us could probably reflect on our childhood and recall a fond memory shared with a special someone who felt it was important enough to mentor, teach and spend valuable time with us. These are the memories that can have a lasting and positive impact on keiki and dramatically change the trajectory of that child’s lifetime choices.”

Adds fellow board member Reiko Matsuyama, “Every kid needs a mentor that they can turn to for guidance.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i serves islandwide for its community-based program and it currently has school-based mentoring programs at Kapa‘a, Kōloa and Kekaha elementary schools. The hope for this event is to raise enough funds for the organization to expand while also becoming more self-sustaining. This past year, the organization expanded its services in both the schooland community-based programs.

“We want to continue that growth,” says Cowan. “We are continuously working on making quality matches and doing our best to keep folks off the waitlist.”

But the program doesn’t just benefit the keiki, according to Finn.

“It is my hope that at some point, every one will consider becoming a mentor. You will come to realize that you can learn just as much about yourself by being there for someone else. Whether it’s a parent, teacher, aunt, uncle or coach … we each have the ability to change a child’s life for the better.”

“Kaua‘i is so special because our community is everything,” says Cowan. “We absolutely could not succeed without the support of our sponsors and individuals who are always so keen to help where they can.”

For details on the Perfect Pairings fundraiser, email ncowan@bbbshawaii.org or call 631-8642. For information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i, visit bbshawaii.org.