By Léo Azambuja

Charity Walk 2018. Contributed photo

I worked for 15 years in the visitor industry, and there are many things I miss about it. The late-night bar-hopping, the quick cash in my pocket, my peers and the many wonderful people from all over the world I met throughout the years.

One of the things I miss the most is the aloha spirit we carried in and out of work day in and day out. Even if we had a bad day at home, we always introduced ourselves with a smile, which inevitably boosted out mood. Sure, we all have our horror stories about waiting tables, but at the end of the day, the positive outcome overwhelmingly topped any bad experience.

During my years as a waiter, I think I donated more money to different causes than I ever have donated. Every week, there was some kind of fundraiser going on. It was someone selling banana bread to fund their kids’ soccer tournament on the Big Island, Krispy Kreme doughnuts for a hula competition on O‘ahu or tickets for a car wash to fund a softball tournament on Maui, and the list goes on.

The most popular fundraising item had to be lau lau. I remember telling one of my co-workers I was considering changing my name to Léo Léo because of so much lau lau I bought and ate.

The biggest fundraiser of all was always the Charity Walk. This event really brought everyone together. The goal at my last hotel job, at the Kaua‘i Marriott in Lihu‘e, was always 100 percent participation, if I remember correctly. And if the participation wasn’t 100 percent, it was pretty darn close to it. I worked there for eight years, and somehow I always had a legit excuse to not walk. But I always contributed. And it always felt good.

Kaua‘i’s economic engine relies heavily on the visitor industry. We hurt badly in the aftermath of Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992, because tourism took a heavy hit and many hotels shut down for several months, and even years in some cases.

I think it’s pretty cool that the visitor industry recognizes its chiefly role on the Hawaiian Islands economy, and puts a monumental effort every year to raise money to help local nonprofit organizations. It’s pretty cool too that all funds raised on each island goes to a nonprofit on that same island. Just to be sure; the bulk of the money comes from visitor industry workers, our own community fabric.

Since this year is the 41st edition of the Charity Walk, organizers decided to set the fundraising goal at $410,000, symbolically matching the event’s age. This means they will have to raise almost $50,000 more than last year’s event, which was already record-setting at more than $362,000.

Chip Bahout, general manager of the Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort, is co-chairing the event along with Jake Vogelgesang, director of operations at the Marriott Waiohai. Chip told me because of this goal, organizers are focused on finding additional funding sources other than visitor industry workers.

To achieve this goal, the nonprofit organizations involved in the walk are stepping up their participation in the fundraising efforts, and organizers are also really pushing for increased corporate sponsorship. After all, even if a business is not dealing directly with the visitor industry, it most likely benefits from it because we are such a tight-knit community. And of course, the money they donate will go to those in need here on this island.

To me, one of the greatest things about the Charity Walk is that it brings the community full circle on all levels. It doesn’t matter what we do for a living, what part of the island we live, how old we are, we are all on this rock together. The walk is one of the best reminders of our connection to each other and a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our aloha spirit, our biggest gift to the world.

I’m stealing the Charity Walk’s past and current slogans, and leaving you with a message.

Put Your Best Foot Forward to continue A Tradition of Giving.