Hawaii County recognizes hundreds of retired and senior volunteers

  • Multiple Na Hoku Hanohano award winner Darlene Ahuna entertains at the RSVP Recognition Event Wednesday at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Mamie Bramlett was recognized for volunteering 20 years with the RSVP program at the RSVP Recognition Event Wednesday at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Estella Baoy, left, and Aiko Pennington are recognized by Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Maurice Messina for their years of volunteer service with RSVP at the Recognition Event Wednesday at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • More than 300 volunteers attend the RSVP Recognition Event Wednesday at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kealoha Sugiyama dances to “O Beautiful, Hawaii Nei” at the RSVP Recognition Event Wednesday.

  • 103-year-old Wally Ichishita was the oldest volunteer recognized at the RSVP Recognition Event Wednesday at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.

  • Elderly Activities Division Director Roann Okamura, left and Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Maurice Messina honor Gladys Nanbu and Zachary DeBernardi for their years of volunteer service with RSVP at the Recognition Event Wednesday at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — At 103 years old, Kona Acres resident Wally Ichishita continues to give back.

He’s already dedicated 21 years of volunteer service to the community alongside his wife, Aiko, and isn’t about to call it quits anytime soon.

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“The master tells me ‘five more years,’ and I live up to the man up there,” he said, laughing and enjoying his time Wednesday during a recognition event for those in our community ages 55 and older who give back through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).

You’ve seen the couple — who are preparing to celebrate 74 years of marriage as of next month — at Yano Hall where Wally heads up karaoke.

The centenarian is still gardening and living an active lifestyle, and attributes it to having a good mind with a positive outlook and caring for others. He proudly states that there is “nothing wrong with me.”

“Don’t take care of (only) yourself — take care of others,” Ichishita said, who is the program’s oldest volunteer.

Ichishita was just one of more than 320 people who packed the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel for the annual RSVP Recognition Day put on by the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation Elderly Activities Division.

The areas of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, South Kona, North Kona, South Kohala and North Kohala were represented. In addition to a luncheon, volunteers were treated to entertainment by the Tad Humble Project and Darlene Ahuna.

The Hawaii County Retired and Senior Volunteer Program is part of a national program that since 1971 has connected older adults looking to volunteer with local organizations to meet community needs. It’s been active on the Big Island since ‘72.

RSVP falls under the auspices of the Senior Corps program, one of three programs managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency established under the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993.

“The only eligibility criteria is age 55,” said Kaui Paleka-Kama, Hawaii County’s RSVP director.

Today, Hawaii County boasts more than 1,200 volunteers, she said.

On the west side, the program has seen ranks rise by 270, about 40 percent, over the past three years.

“Props to the people of Kona — from Kohala all the way down to Ocean View,” said Paleka-Kama. “It’s amazing the people that love their island.”

Most of the island’s volunteers are “individuals who want to take up some time, and maybe explore an encore career.” Many take part because of the socialization it provides, she said.

Learning and meeting new people is what keeps North Kohala resident Gladys Nanbu with RSVP.

“It’s good to get out and meet people from different places and sit with them and show them what we have,” Nanbu said.

The 88-year-old, who’s manned the information desk at the North Kohala Community Resource for years, was honored Wednesday for her 29 years of service, the most of the more than 400 people recognized during the event.

The volunteers provide a variety of services to some 170 to 190 government and nonprofit agencies on Hawaii Island, said Paleka-Kama. Places they are visible on the Big Island include government offices, schools and hospitals, as well as nonprofits like Kona Historical Society, Alu Like, and Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center. Some volunteers also assist at proprietary care facilities.

“It gives you a sense of fulfillness,” said Mamie Bramlett about why she volunteers. Bramlett, who marked 20 years, also noted it “keeps you and your mind young.”

Not including funds that RSVP members help agencies raise, Paleka-Kama estimated the “volunteer value” of the service provided in 2017 in the millions.

“We are looking well into the $2 million in terms of valuation,” she said, “and I can’t measure the impact of the service.”

Parks and Rec Deputy Director Maurice Messina said the volunteers gave the county 100,000 hours of service — if the county had paid those people about minimum wage, it would equate to about $1 million, he added, resulting in savings to taxpayers.

“You’re saving this county over a million dollars at a time when we can really use it,” Messina said.

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Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe, representing Mayor Harry Kim, also thanked the volunteers, noting the impact they make whether it’s answering phones or “just greeting people with a smile.”

“We truly appreciate all of your efforts in making Hawaii County such a special place to live,” he said.