The awardees

The awardees, heaped with lei, state decrees and county certificates. L-R: Ellen Ching, Gina Kuulukukui, Carla Thomas

Article and photos by Anne E. O’Malley

The YWCA of Kaua`i honored Ellen Ching, Gina Kaulukukui and Carla Thomas at the Kaua`i Beach Resort recently. It was the sixth iteration of an event that began in 1982 in which the YWCA honors women leaders in our community.

Governor Neil Abercrombie paid a visit and gave tribute to the awardees at this program that has evolved to be called Na Wahine Alaka`i O Kaua`i, or, “Women Leaders of Kaua`i”, but could as easily have been named “Women Who Inspire Kaua`i.”

That’s because the women the YWCA selects for this award do just that, inspire all of us. It would have been tough to walk away from the luncheon without feeling the “lift” gotten from learning the highlights of each woman’s career as captured and screened by videographer Renee Seldon.

Awardee Gina Kaulukukui’s grief over her father’s suicide that took place when she was only five years old ultimately led her on a path to her current work as co-founder and executive director of Life’s Bridges Hawai`i, Inc. and the Domestic Violence Interventions Coordinator for the Kaua`i Police Department.

She’s the go-to person on the island when visitors or residents lose a loved one. She sits on several local and state boards and task forces while raising a family.

Awardee Ellen Ching, neighbor island development officer for Easter Seals Hawai`i, oversees that organization’s funds development for Kaua`i, Maui and Hawai`i Island. When she stepped onboard the staff of The Arc of Kaua`i in 1983, it was as a respite coordinator, and within six months she was named executive director.

Her outstanding work in the field of assisting individuals with developmental disabilities to achieve their best possible lives has been the thrust of her life, and the ultimate outcome was that The Arc of Kaua`i merged with Easter Seals of Hawai`i.

Awardee Carla Thomas, director of Human Resources at the Grand Hyatt Kaua`i Resort & Spa told attendees, “Giving Back to the community was ingrained in us as children,” and her life is one example after another of that practice. In addition to having worked in the military, education and the visitor industry, she has found time to sit on four trust funds, be the past president of the Hawai`i State Society of Human Resource Manager, be the vice-president of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association and the human resources chair and board member of the Kaua`i United Way and more.