Community comes out for 41st annual event to benefit local nonprofits

  • A Special Olympics West Hawaii volunteers gives a Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk participant a high-five Saturday during the annual event held at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • A woman grabs some much-needed water Saturday during the Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • Runners and walkers filled the roadway Saturday during the Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • A woman throws up a shaka along the walk portion of Saturday’s Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Keiki on rollerskates also took part in Saturday's Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • A runner nearing the finish grabs a cup of water from a Special Olympics West Hawaii volunteer Saturday during the Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • A runner nearing the finish grabs a cup of water from Special Olympics West Hawaii volunteers Saturday during the Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • More than 2,000 runners and walkers took part in Saturday's Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • Participants donning Mario and Luigi costumes cruise Saturday during the Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • More than 2,000 runners and walkers took part in Saturday’s Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • A volunteer gives a high-five to a runner Saturday during the Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • More than 2,000 runners and walkers took part in Saturday's Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

WAIKOLOA — Whether they were running, jogging, walking or skating their way around Waikoloa Beach Resort, everyone who took part in Saturday’s Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk agreed: this was about community.

“As the largest industry within the state and within the island, we need to make sure that we do our part to support the community that we live and work in,” said Steve Yannarell, Charity Walk chair and general manager at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort &Spa. “And we are part of the community.”

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Saturday’s event marked the 41st occurrence of the largest single fundraiser in the state that takes place on all islands, Yannarell said. All the money raised at each island’s Charity Walk stays on that island and supports nonprofit organizations in the community.

The event, staged by the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, typically draws around 2,000 people on this island for a run/walk throughout Waikoloa Beach Resort starting and ending by Queens’ MarketPlace, followed by a celebration where participants dug into pupus prepared by some of the island’s top restaurants and resorts, offering fare such as sliders, lumpia and tacos.

All the while, the event raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to support organizations doing good work here on the island.

“Each nonprofit has something that they focus on,” said Yannarell. “So it touches a wide range of needs in the community. So we just hope that they’re able to do a little bit more because of the funds that are raised.”

Charity Walks were also planned for Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai and Oahu throughout the month of May.

Last year, Yannarell said, Hawaii Island’s Charity Walk raised $315,000 for 61 charities on the island, and this year organizers set a goal of $325,000.

At the time Yannarell spoke to the crowd toward the end of the event, he said this year’s event had surpassed that goal, totaling $338,000.

He gave special recognition to the top hotels, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, which raised almost $41,000, as well as Hilton Grand Vacations, which raised almost $23,000 and Hilton Waikoloa Village, which raised close to $16,000.

And for some of the local nonprofits that will benefit from the Charity Walk, the impact the fundraiser has is huge.

Kien Aveiro with the Alex and Duke DeRego Foundation said this is their fourth year at the event, saying the Charity Walk is one of their biggest fundraisers of the year.

The foundation aims to spread knowledge among youth about first aid, CPR and ocean awareness. The funds they receive through the Charity Walk help them support the Junior Life Guard program as well as purchase rescue tubes for public beaches that aren’t staffed by lifeguards.

In addition to the funds that it raises for the foundation’s efforts, he said, the Charity Walk is also a chance to raise awareness of what the foundation is doing in the community.

“It’s a great thing for the community I think,” Aveiro said of the Charity Walk. “It brings a lot of people together. Also, to get out and walk and exercise is always a good thing.”

The first runner to cross the finish line was Hawaii Preparatory Academy student Kanoa Blake, completing the 3.7-mile run in just over 23 minutes.

Saturday marked the 14-year-old’s first Charity Walk, and he said he believed “100%” that it was important for the community to have events like this.

“Everyone has a lot of fun and it’s a really good thing for this community,” he said after finishing the run. “Especially in Hawaii, because I feel like everyone in Hawaii is really close, and doing this kind of stuff brings everyone really close together, and you get to meet new people.”

And the hotel employees who were taking part in the event were also big supporters of the Charity Walk’s mission for the community and its support of local nonprofits.

“It’s to give back, definitely to give back,” said George Thronas, director of human resources at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa. “Because we know it’s a balance of having the tourism industry as well as to support the way of life for a lot of our residents here.”

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Taking part in the event or volunteering in any way in the community, he added, is also a big morale booster for staff who are able to see the impact their actions have on the community in which they live and work.

“Outside of doing their daily routine of cleaning a room or whether it be serving a table, they’re actually able to go outside and volunteer,” he said. “Whether it’s helping at a school reading books or helping with a garden it gives them that sense of place that they belong.”

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