A Great Way to Give

Scott Giarman, executive director of Kaua'i United Way, says donations here have actually been up in recent years - unlike the rest of the U.S. With more people hurting than ever, he's counting again on the generosity of Garden Isle residents. The target this year: $625,000

Unlike the rest of Hawaii, donations to Kaua’i United Way have gone up in recent years, and Scott Giarman hopes that continues

It is the season for giving, and monetary contributions, however big or small, to Kaua’i United Way is one of the best ways to make a positive difference this holiday season, says the organization’s executive director Scott Giarman.

“I always tell people they should give as much as it takes to make them feel good,” Giarman says.

One of the many advantages of donating to Kaua’i United Way, which has served the island since 1943, is its multiplier effect.

The organization accepts contributions and distributes them to other nonprofits around the island, such as American Red Cross and Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i. It also provides funds to organizations that supply services to the island, but may not be as well-known and would likely not receive as much money if it weren’t for Kaua’i United Way.

“We’re looking out for the whole community,” says Giarman.

Another benefit of donating to Kaua’i United Way is its payroll deduction option, magnifying people’s ability to give.

“For most people, it’s a lot easier to give $2 per paycheck than to write a check for $50,” says Giarman.

And $2 per check adds up when it’s thousands of people.

“People who aren’t millionaires can make real differences in the community,” he says.

Ron Wiley (standing) with other members of the Campaign Committee

Supporting the community has an effect on everyone.

“That’s something that’s not always intuitively quick for people to grasp,” says Giarman. “When you give to the whole community, you’re giving to yourself.”

For example, even if a person does not have a son, providing funds for programs such as Boy Scouts of America helps local boys become more wellrounded adults and prevents social problems down the road.

The good news for agencies like these is that Kaua’i United Way continues to receive as much financial assistance from the community as it did before the economy turned sour three years ago. While United Way nationwide has declined some 4 to 5 percent annually since our economic woes began, and Aloha United Way on Oahu has been declining around 6 percent per year, Kaua’i United Way has increased an average of 3.5 percent each year since 1995 when Giarman came on board.

Scott Giarman with pledge cards anyone can use to contribute to KUW

“When the economic crisis hit in 2008, we were terrified just like everybody else, and we had no idea how people would respond,” he says. “It’s been very interesting. We’ve continued to raise our goal year after year.”

Each yearly campaign starts around Labor Day and runs through the end of October or shortly thereafter. Proceeds include those from fundraisers such as Kaua’i United Way’s annual Walk-A-Thon and Golf Tournament.

Last year, the goal was $620,000, and 97 percent was raised. This year, the goal is $625,000.

“I believe we could make $1 million on this island with a concerted effort and everybody doing their part,” says Giarman.

Not only do the donations make a difference, the diligence of the Kaua’i United Way staff, board members and volunteers help make the local charity tick.

“I have that kind of spirit that would like to provide the community with as much resources to help the less fortunate, and Kaua’i United Way is one of the ways to express that,” says Lynnette MedranoStine, who is one of three employees at Kaua’i United Way, along with Giarman and office manager Lori Almarza. Medrano-Stine has found it very rewarding to work with Giarman since she started her position last year as campaign manager and community services coordinator.

Kaua‘i United Way staff: Lynnette Medrano-Stine, Scott Giarman and Lori Almarza

“He genuinely believes in the Kaua’i United Way mission to raise funds to better care for the people of Kaua’i so that our participating agencies can better fulfill their missions,” says KQNG DJ Ron Wiley, who serves as co-chairman on the Kaua’i United Way Campaign Committee.

Prior to his 16-year-long commitment, Giarman never stayed anywhere longer than five years. Originally from Connecticut, he bounced around the East Coast for much of his life prior to accepting his current position and moving to Kaua’i in the mid-1990s.

Though he has an MBA in nonprofit management from Boston University, he didn’t utilize his degree until becoming an employee of Kaua’i United Way.

Right out of graduate school Giarman found a job with a NASA contractor. He wrote hundreds of millions of dollars worth of proposals to the government for a tracking and data-relay satellite system.

“It was just so cool, I couldn’t pass it up,” he says.

Giarman also worked on a joint venture with Southern New England Telephone Company and CSX railroad company, laying the first fiber optic cable down across the eastern U.S.

“We lit up everything east of the Mississippi,” says Giarman, who also was a telecommunications executive.

Despite his career success, he always felt drawn to the island.

Kathy Miyake of CPB presents a check on behalf of bank employees to KUW’s Lynnette Medrano-Stine and Scott Giarman

“I knew I had to be here,” says Giarman, who first visited at age 14.

Traveling to the island as often as possible, he says he had “shrines to Kaua’i” everyplace he worked.

“I knew I was going to be here eventually. And I was pulled to be here,” he says. “I was really kind of torn up about it, too, because I would come to visit all the time and, even when I was visiting, I was torn up because I knew I was going to have to leave again. Every time I’d drive by the airport, my stomach would drop.”

Eventually purchasing a condominium in Princeville in 1993, Giarman did not find a job opportunity on-island until an ad in the paper for his current position appeared two years later. Though he called the office, begging to schedule an appointment regarding the job before he had to leave the island, it wasn’t until three weeks after returning to the East Coast that he was called in for an interview.

Without hesitation, Giarman hopped on a plane.

“I made the fastest trip to Hawai’i that anybody has ever had,” he says.

“They wanted to bring Kaua’i United Way to a new level,” says Giarman about what the hiring team was looking for at the time, adding that his background in marketing intrigued them.

Landing the position was easy. The hardest part about finally purchasing a one-way ticket to Kaua’i was the 75 percent pay cut. Though it was a hurdle, Giarman also knew his job-hopping and 15 percent salary increases with each new position were no longer satisfying.

“Getting it in my head that taking less money was not a failure was the big leap for me,” says Giarman. “Once I did that, it was a no-brainer and the best thing I ever did in my life.”

“Scott is truly a caring person,” says Wiley. “All these years he could have been earning ‘real money’ in the for-profit sector, yet he has chosen to stay and serve the people of Kaua’i.”

Though Giarman sold his Princeville condo, he still lives on the North Shore in Kilauea and commutes every day.

But the drive is nothing compared to the hour and a half he once spent commuting Mainland beltways.

“A little 45-minute cruise down Kaua’i’s east coast is a piece of cake, a joy,” he says.

And his 3-acre tree farm makes it even more worthwhile.

Tending to exotic tropical hardwoods is a hobby that gives Giarman, whose son Nicholas is attending college in California, an opportunity to wind down and exercise at the same time.

The rewarding aspects of Giarman’s life now seem endless.

“The fact that Kaua’i United Way has a direct, immediate and palpable impact in the positive direction of this community, I think that’s wonderful. And I don’t think that’s something you could really achieve in a big city,” he says.

Visit kauaiunitedway.org for more information.