By Léo Azambuja

Left to right, HLTA Kaua‘i Chapter Executive Director Morgan Lopez, Sheraton Kaua‘i GM Chip Bahout, Kukui‘ula Property Manager Stacie Chiba-Miguel and Marriott Waiohai Director of Operations Jacob Vogelgesang.

One of the largest and longest-running annual fundraisers on Kaua‘i is stepping up its game this year, eyeing a goal of nearly $50,000 more than the $362,000 record-setting fundraising effort of 2018.

“The Charity Walk is a way for people who benefit from the visitor industry to give back to 60 different nonprofits on Kaua‘i,” said Jacob Vogelgesang, Director of Operations of the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club & Resort.

The Visitor Industry Charity Walk, created by the Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association, is a statewide event held each year in May on six islands — Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, Big Island, Lanāʻi and Molokai. In 1974, HLTA sponsored a Superwalk to benefit a single major charity organization. Four years later, its members created the first Charity Walk, extending support to several nonprofit organizations.

“This is the 41st annual (Charity Walk); this isn’t something that just started,” said Chip Bahout, General Manager of the Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort. Bahout is also the co-chair of this year’s walk, along with Vogelgesang. The visitor industry is Hawai‘i’s largest industry, he said, and the walk is the industry’s effort to give back to the community.

Charity Walk 2018. Contributed photo

Organizers are hoping to rally 2,500 people to participate in the May 11 walk starting at Vidinha Stadium in Lihu‘e. The walk starts next to the stadium’s north soccer park. Participants will head south on Ho‘olako Street, and do a right turn on Rice Street. They’ll again turn right on Umi Street and walk all the way to Ahukini Road. From there, they’ll walk to the intersection with Kapule Highway, and continue southward back to the stadium, where a big party with live music and free gourmet food awaits them. Along the way, there will be several aid stations with refreshments.

“Thirty five dollars will get you a shirt, an exercise for two miles and free food,” said Stacie Chiba-Miguel, Senior Property Manager at The Shops at Kukui‘ula. She’s also chair of the Committee for Corporate Sponsorship, one of 17 committees in the event’s organization.

Since its inception, the Charity Walk raised $32 million statewide. Last year, the statewide efforts reached $2.5 million, with more than $362,000 raised on Kaua‘i alone. What was impressive about last year’s Charity Walk was that Kaua‘i’s goal of $275,000 was surpassed by more than $87,000.

Charity Walk 2018. Contributed photo

This year, organizers are pushing the envelope by raising the goal to $410,000 to symbolically match the event’s 41st edition. And then there’s the added glitter that no donations leave the island.

“All the money raised on Kaua‘i goes to Kaua‘i organizations,” Chiba-Miguel said.

Morgan Lopez, Executive Director of HLTA, Kaua‘i Chapter, said the grant application is simple. Each nonprofit has to file an application with their requested amount and how they are going to use the funds. The amount of monies they will receive is based on how much they fundraise and how much they participate prior and during the walk.

“Based off of how much they are involved with the Charity Walk, how many activities they assist us with, we have a point scale that we go off of it, and we have a calculation of points to distribute the money,” Lopez said.

Some of the ways the nonprofits can accumulate points include becoming members of some of committees, posting calls and testimonials on social media, participating in pre-walk events, assisting with tasks during the walk and receiving pledges through the online fundraising platform MobileCause.

Through MobileCause, available at the Charity Walk’s website, anyone can pick a nonprofit, and the donation will go specifically to that nonprofit.

The bulk of the money raised, however, comes from the visitor industry itself. Last year, the visitor industry raised more than 90 percent of the funds, according to Chiba-Miguel.

A couple months before the walk, visitor industry workers start buying T-shirts and signing up for the walk, and asking friends and family to participate. Even hotel guests participate.

Past Charity Walk. Contributed photo

“When you look at the people that are actually fundraising, these are employees that work for the hotels, these are guests that stay at the hotels,” said Chiba-Miguel, adding each hotel has different ways of fundraising.

Some of the fundraising efforts are quite remarkable and creative. Vogelgesang said there’s a waiter at the Sheraton who donates an entire month of his own tips to the event. Bartenders at different hotels wear Charity Walk T-shirts ahead of time, and try to sell them to hotel guests. Hotels do bake and food sales, put special parking spots up for bid and promote other creative ways to raise money. Hanalei Bay Resort on the North Shore raised the most amount of money last year — more than $45,000 — mostly thanks to the efforts of one employee.

“It takes a lot to make this successful, both as an event and financially,” Vogelgesang said. “All the people in the hotel industry are quite passionate about raising funds for this and giving back.”

Bahout, who also co-chaired last year’s event, said they recently put a lot of effort in reinventing the Charity Walk. The event’s grand finale was moved from the Historic County Building to Vidinha Stadium last year. Corporate sponsorships were brought into the mix and participation by nonprofits has strengthened. Additionally, HLTA decided to fund an executive director position for the Kaua‘i Chapter.

Charity Walk 2018. Contributed photo

This year, organizers are adding a Rubbah Slippah Drop event. For $5, people will have their names attached to their own rubber slippers, which will be added to other slippers and dropped from a seven-story-high engine ladder. The owner of the slipper that lands closest to the bull’s eye will win two round trips to Las Vegas, including a four-night stay at a hotel.

“So bring your rubber slippers,” Chiba-Miguel said.

She, Vogelgesang, Bahout and Lopez are the core group planning this year’s Charity Walk. But they are not alone — nearly 30 other volunteers are part of the 17 committees making the event happen.

With this year’s goal of increasing donations by almost $50,000 to $410,000, Chiba-Miguel said they are really pushing for increased corporate sponsorship.

“This has always been a fundraising that was driven by the tourism industry,” she said. But at the end of the day, she added, there are many other businesses that also benefit from the travel industry, and they want to give back to the community.

“So it’s a real nice partnership for these businesses to come in, put some donation money, get some advertising out there, and help to give back to 60 nonprofit organizations,” Chiba-Miguel said.

Left to right, Christine Gabriel, Jacob Vogelgesang, Caroline ‘Duke’ Asing and Chip Bahout. Contributed photo

There are several pre-walk fundraising events to help toward the goal. On March 29, the Flavors of Kukui‘ula event in Po‘ipu offered a chance for residents and visitors to meet many local charities, with live music, street food and a silent auction spread throughout the open-air The Shops at Kukui‘ula shopping center. On April 13, there’s a bowling fundraiser at Lihu‘e Bowling Center. A shoreline fishing tournament in Po‘ipu April 26 to 28 will also help to raise funds. On May 4, a week before the walk, a countdown event will take place at Kukui Grove Center from 10 a.m. to noon, with entertainment, a silent auction, meet-and-greet with charities and a walker registration and T-shirt pickup.

This is Bahout’s last year co-chairing the event. He said he wanted to give back to the community that has given so much to him. Chiba-Miguel was born and raised on Kaua‘i, and she wants to use her resources to give back to the same organizations she benefited from while growing up. Vogelgesang, who also grew up here, said some of the nonprofits in the event are helping some of his friends and classmates who have struggled with various problems and are in need of help.

“The aloha spirit makes us so special and so unique,” Bahout said.

The 41st Charity Walk starts next to the soccer park north of Vidinha Stadium in Lihu‘e May 11 at 7 a.m.

Visit www.charitywalkhawaii.org/kauai.html for more information, to register for the walk, to donate through MobileCause, or to access an online auction with hotel stays and other items. Visit www.hltakauai.org for more information.