As Make-A-Wish Hawaiʻi celebrates 40 years, president and CEO Trini Kaopuiki Clark invites the community to mark the occasion during its upcoming fundraising gala.
Not many people can say they’ve trained with Navy SEALs, but one youngster from Maui can. Twelve-year-old Lyla, who was diagnosed with a rare nervous system disorder, wished to be a member of the U.S. Navy’s elite special operations force and got the chance to participate in simulated training and combat exercises on land and in the water with former SEALs. Thanks to Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i, multiple community partners and more than 100 volunteers, Lyla’s wish came true and the experience gifted her with lasting memories.
For 17-year-old Manuel IV (aka Mano), all he wished for was to be able to refurbish his family’s heirloom 1992 Mustang GT 5.0. Mano and his father, Manuel III, worked on the car a lot in the two years since the teen’s surgery that removed a portion of an invasive brain tumor. During that time, Mano learned how to replace the brakes and suspension, and conduct routine maintenance.
“When we surprised Mano with the Mustang makeover, complete with a new paint job, stereo system, etc., he literally jumped up (and onto his father) with joy,” recalls Trini Kaopuiki Clark, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i. “It was beautiful to witness and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Granting wishes like these isn’t as easy as snapping one’s fingers or waving a magic wand. It takes a lot of coordination and connection, and that’s where Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i has excelled for the past 40 years, as evidenced by the list of success stories and wishes currently in progress at hawaii.wish.org.
According to Clark, a lot of hands and hearts come together to make children’s wishes come true. From the time a critically ill child gets referred to the nonprofit (either by a doctor, family member or friend), they’re partnered with a Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i volunteer who helps them identify their wish. Then, depending on the wish, the nonprofit works with additional businesses, organizations and individuals to make the wish come true. Dreams, desires and goals of all shapes and sizes float through the Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i office every year, and each request gives the staff and its myriad volunteers something to fight for.
“All wishes are special, and I’m not just saying that,” says Clark. “To see the joy on a child’s face and the emotion and gratitude on the family’s faces, it’s hard to describe.”
Clark recently celebrated her third year with the nonprofit, but giving back and doing good for others has long been her passion. Since her days with KHON2 News, where she spent nearly two decades, Clark has been using her time, talents and energy for good, most notably leading the station’s philanthropic efforts via the Laulima Giving Program.
“As that became a bigger part of my job, helping the community and giving back became a bigger and more important part of my life,” she says.
It was around that time when the position to lead Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i came about, and Clark found that the organization’s mission was one that she truly believed in and wanted to be a part of.
“The power of a wish has an amazing effect on wish kids, their families and our community,” she explains. “It’s been an honor and a privilege to bring some much needed joy and hope to local families when they need it most.”
Clark joined Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i in January 2019, and was the right person to lead the organization through an unprecedented time. Though the pandemic altered the way the nonprofit operated, the mission to grant life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses never stopped. Clark and the rest of the team made sure of that.
“We’ve been innovative in developing novel ways to continue delivering strength and hope to our local wish kids and their families — and engaging our supporters in the process,” she notes. “We’ve still been able to grant lots of local wishes, many of which are particularly poignant at this time: wishes for gaming computers so friends can stay connected while in isolation, a cell phone to call family from the hospital and backyard play spaces.”
Instead of shrinking its sphere of influence, the pandemic allowed Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i to grow and expand, especially in the virtual realm with its online talent show “Stars at Home” (check it out this month) and signature gala event (this year titled “Wish! Through the Decades”; see story on page 5). That ability to pivot and adapt leaves Clark confident that the organization will overcome any challenge to ensure the state’s critically ill children can experience joy during tough times.
“A wish gives children battling illnesses a choice and some control in their life during a time when the challenges they face feel daunting,” she says. “A wish gives a child hope; it empowers them and gives them strength as they look forward to brighter days ahead. A wish brings joy not only to a wish kid, but to their family, their wish granters and our wonderful community of volunteers and supporters.”
GET READY FOR THE GALA
Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i celebrates four decades of making dreams come true for the state’s critically ill children and marks the occasion with a fundraising gala to continue the wish-granting process.
The virtual “Wish! Through the Decades” will air at 7 p.m. May 14 on Hawai‘i News Now and will stream live on its digital platforms. Those who tune in can expect to hear a collection of heartwarming stories, peruse items from an extensive silent auction and take a walk through history to see how the nonprofit has been bringing joy to children in need of it most.
“With more than 140 children waiting for a wish, we hope the community will join us by tuning in, participating in the online auction and making gifts of any size,” says Trini Kaopuiki Clark, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i. “All gifts, big and small, are appreciated and allow us to continue transforming lives – one wish at a time. Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i has touched so many lives over the last 40 years. As we celebrate and honor wishes from our past during this milestone anniversary year, we look forward to continuing to grant life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses in the next 40 years and beyond.”
Those wanting to learn more can visit wishgalahawaii.com for details.