By Char Ravelo

Melissa McFerrin, seen here holding a copy of For Kaua‘i Newspaper. Photo by Léo Azambuja

You’ll find Melissa McFerrin Warrack helping people with her warm and welcoming smile at Kukui Grove Center, a local farmers’ market or community play. A graduate of Leadership Kauaʻi Class of 2013, this community leader is one of Kaua‘i’s biggest cheerleaders for entrepreneurs and creatives. We wanted to find the source of Melissa’s boundless energy and enthusiasm, and what motivates her to carry on when the going gets tough.

From an early age, Melissa learned to not be afraid of failure and to work through challenges. These life principles unleashed major growth in her through the years. Melissa’s father was her greatest influence. He encouraged her to get out of her comfort zone through compelling and funny life lessons, such as stories like those of Thomas Edison’s positive perseverance to invent the electric lightbulb, and Colonel Sanders who did not let hundreds of initial rejections stop him from starting Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Today, Melissa continues to expand her knowledge and her mind. During the pandemic shutdown, Melissa turned to the Internet and Zoom trainings to study with today’s foremost leadership trainers, such as Tony Robbins and Allison Maslan. With a strong foundation for positive mental attitude, she consistently fills her toolbox with skills and strategies to help individuals, youth and business owners to realize their dreams. She sees Kauaʻi as a vibrant and diverse business community where our youth can be inspired, and where nobody is left behind.

“We may be on an island in the middle of the Pacific but the world comes to us. Even when the pandemic prevented that, we kept learning and connecting through the Internet. We all can continue to benefit from online learning. Top trainers across the board agree the biggest mistake people make is they think too small and underestimate their potential.”

Over the years, she has met business owners with both traditional and non-traditional business backgrounds, working with farmers, restauranteurs, entrepreneurs and artists. She says, “being a business owner is about being able to embrace leadership practices to work with others. In many cases, it’s about your state of mind on a daily basis, and how to embrace the challenges and opportunities in front you.”

Melissa’s 2022 theme is leadership. “In this changing world that is impacting us beyond our control, ultimately the only thing we can control is our response to the challenging conditions. People have worked hard to pivot again and again, and they get tired sometimes. It is important to support and encourage each other so you’re ready for what comes next.”

Her life purpose has been to foster environments that help businesses succeed and use business as a way to develop ourselves and our community. “Nothing exhibited this more than the pandemic which brought out Kaua‘i’s go-give spirit. People were supporting each other, local restaurants checking on people, others were supporting friends and families who wanted to start a new venture or looking toward retirement but seeking a way to continue their business. The Center has been a space for people and opportunities to connect. Throughout the pandemic, keeping people employed was my biggest goal.”

In 2020, Melissa and her husband Jim also became entrepreneurs, purchasing Aunty Lilikoi after the store announced its closure during the pandemic.

Melissa is inspired by entrepreneurs of all ages. The mind-set and excitement of someone who wants to start a business, one who seeks and welcomes ideas for solutions keeps her going every day. When tired, she reaches out to connect with fellow business leaders for inspiration to fill the bucket and be energized again.

In reflective thought, she says, “It’s time for my generation to step up, be involved in the community. It’s time to identify what is your kuleana and your circle of influence. What we do every day makes a difference to the people around us co-workers, peers, youth who are watching how we respond to the situation, how we take what is in front of us and make a step forward. We don’t have to get all the way to the goal today, but keep moving it forward. Look at what works, what doesnʻt, make adjustments and keep going. Find ways to re-energize and stay inspired. We are more capable than we imagine. Even busy people can find ways to sharpen their saw.”

“Leaders create environments where awesome things can happen,” Melissa said.

  • Char Ravelo is the Executive Director of Leadership Kaua‘i, and can be contacted at or (808) 246-8727.

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