Kudos To Kiwanis
Community service is one of the most fulfilling facets of Steven Nishimura’s life. Since 1979, he has had a multitude of rewarding experiences as a member of Kiwanis Club of Kauai.
“We can all do things for ourselves, but if we’re unable to extend the benefits we have to other people, then we have a different type of system where people are individuals rather than working together toward building better communities,” he says before a recent meeting the service organization holds twice a month.
Kiwanis Club is an international organization with more than 200,000 members dedicated largely to improving the lives of children around the world. The Kauai chapter, with a current membership of about 24, launched in the 1950s. Since then, members such as Nishimura have been active in the community, including at the Salvation Army Kokua Soup Kitchen. A majority of their time, however, is committed to helping high school students achieve academic and personal success through the Kiwanis’ sponsored program, Key Club International.
“These kids are just terrific,” says Helena Cooney, Kiwanis Club of Kauai’s current president. “They are so smart; so well-behaved.”
Students volunteer for Key Club, and in doing so commit to five hours of service work each month. These activities range from tutoring at elementary schools and participating in arts and crafts with Regency at Puakea residents, to bell ringing during the holiday season for Salvation Army and helping out at Wilcox Memorial Hospital’s long-term care unit. Kauai High School Key Club has more than 100 members and Kapaa High’s club, which recently launched, has about 40 members.
Throughout the year, teens also get involved in projects such as picking up trash in Nawiliwili, and attending statewide or nationwide conventions that include community projects and leadership seminars.
Kiwanis Club of Kauai offers an annual breakfast fundraiser each year to pay for these trips. The group also raises funds for yearly scholarships for Key Club members. In 2016, five seniors from Kauai High School were awarded scholarships of $1,000 each.
“As long as we can provide a foundation for them to grow and learn, I think we’re doing at least something — we’re giving back something,” says Nishimura.
Cheryl Shintani, also a member and past president, is a proponent of the benefits for Key Club students. As a retired educator, she understands the necessity of providing a service and leadership outlet for keiki, and she’s happy to be a part of their journey.
“They keep your energy up, and they’re so willing and open to learn,” she says. “And they’re so much fun.”
Supervising Key Club activities is rewarding in and of itself for members like Shintani, but being able to bond with others who are passionate about doing the same service also is special.
Cooney says she continues doing the voluntary work because “I love people.”
Ever since she was introduced to the club in the 1980s while living in California, she has enjoyed the way it brings people from all walks of life together. At the time, she regularly hosted dinners at her home for members of the club.
“I just had such a great time,” she says.
Cooney recalls one time when she invited two members who disapproved of each other to her home — they had somehow managed to avoid one another for nearly a decade.
“Here, all of a sudden, they were forced to sit at a table with their wives,” says Cooney, who has continued to be involved in some capacity with the club since moving to the island more than 10 years ago.
The two members mended their relationship and became friends. This Kiwanis kinship spreads even farther than local chapters. Visitors George and Hazel Kinzer from Kiwanis Club of Columbine, Colorado, often drop in on meetings on Kauai to share stories, collaborate and hear updates.
“Where ever we go, there’s a Kiwanis family,” says George Hazel.
Even though the Kauai chapter is relatively small compared to others around the world, it still manages to make an impact in the community. And now that Cooney is at the helm, she plans to continue making an even bigger one.
“I am a Kiwanian through and through,” she says.
Volunteers interested in becoming members can visit angelfire.com/on4/kauaikiwanis or email Cooney at Helena1824@aol.com.