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Chad Pata

Giving More Than Money

American Savings Bank CEO Richard Wacker and his employees donate money to Child & Family Service, but go beyond that by serving as tutors and mentors, and by offering internships. With Wacker are Rosalina Ripley and Bransen Ellis of CFS

In the corporate world, the oversized check has become what the gift card is to the general public: an easy, generic present that ticks a name off your list without having to put any more heart or thought into the matter.

This isn’t to say the funds are not appreciated (Thanks Auntie, I did need some stuff from Longs!), but the feeling you get from bestowing a plastic card or Styrofoam check is not the same as when you can see your efforts make a real difference in people’s lives.

Since taking the helm as chief executive officer at American Savings Bank in 2010, Richard Wacker has been encouraging his employees to do more than just donate part of their salaries; instead he asks they invest part of their lives.

Their lead charity is Child & Family Service, a nonprofit founded in 1899 in Hawaii with a mission to positively influence the families of these Islands. It aids everyone from keiki to kupuna by providing shelter, education and guidance to our families in crisis.

“We wanted to really touch people, not just be about the checks,” says Wacker, who came to ASB from Korea, where he was the CEO of the Korea Exchange Bank.

“It helps, but there are other things we like our people to be involved in because of the skills we have to get people into programs. The state can’t provide internships, and we want to provide the help they cannot get within the structures of the state program. We like to give them training, internships – they could even land a job with us to help them get out and become independent and off on their own, and have a chance to have what they should have out of life.”

Providing these services is invaluable to CFS, as its state funding is being cut, and with federal dollars sure to dwindle, it is forced to provide only the most bare-bones care. Helping families in need is important, but just as important is getting them back on their feet and doing for themselves.

ASB provides several programs though CFS, varying from financial literacy classes to Pathways to Work, a low-interest car loan to help those with bad or no credit.

“Our people need help in the areas that ASB can help with in terms of how people interview for jobs, help them with budgeting – they need to know how to manage their own money,” says Howard Garval, CEO of CFS.

These classes are taught by ASB employees on a voluntary basis, with basic training in money management, using credit cards properly, dealing with payday lenders and even explaining the importance of credit scores.

Many of those they serve have not had the opportunity to learn these lessons that are so crucial to surviving on their own.

The classes also are geared to different age groups, from pointers for teens on how to get into the work-force, to guidance for seniors on how to navigate the bureaucracy that is Medicare.

As important as these services are, there would be no way for CFS to provide them without the aid of the bank.

“We love the donations and money, we put it to good use, but it is also great to have this volunteer expertise that we can’t pay for through our contracts,” says Garval. “So we get the service, and the volunteers get to see the benefit of what it means for the people we serve.”

The relationship between the two organizations goes back decades, but it has become decidedly closer since Wacker came aboard.

“When I first got to the bank, the thing that was clear to me is that so many people within the bank had a big passion for CFS,” says Wacker, who created the KEB Foundation, the first social welfare organization in the Korean financial industry, while serving as the CEO with KEB. “When I went I around and asked who should we be doing more with, CFS was at the top of that list.”

He kicked off a new giving program for the employees called Kahiau, the Hawaiian word meaning “to give from the heart without expecting anything in return,” to allow ASB workers to give in a more-directed way to the charities they cared most about. In 2012 alone they’ve donated more than $57,000 to CFS.

This year ASB was the presenting sponsor for “Boogie Wonderland,” the annual CFS fundraising gala that tapped Wacker for a skill he doesn’t usually get to display in his corporate offices on Fort Street Mall – his ability to dance.

As a reward for taking the lead in this fundraiser, Wacker was asked to take the position of lead singer in the Starshine Band, which was their version of KC and the Sunshine Band with all the trappings of the beloved ’70s act, including a mullet for Wacker. Each year they do a new theme, with the climax of the evening arriving in the form of executives doing a dance routine based on that theme.

“I was just glad they didn’t put me in a dress. I’ll take the mullet,” says the soft-spoken Wacker with a laugh. “You are not just a token board member here, you really are involved in things like the event. It is a neat opportunity to get to know each other, and if you are doing all this costume stuff and embarrassing yourself, then you form bonds faster than you would in other organizations. It is a great group of people.”

The evening did have its funnier moments, with 21 leaders from the business community lip-syncing about your Boogie Shoes – how could it not be hilarious? – but the final result was no laughing matter, as the event sold out all its table sponsorships and managed to raise $585,000 to support CFS, and created closer relationships within the business community in the process.

“It has been an unanticipated benefit,” says Garval, who has led CFS for the past six years. “We wanted to do a fun event, and we didn’t even think about it when we did it and we achieved it. It is one of the more fun events you can attend during the year. We wanted everyone dancing, but we didn’t realize how helpful it was for them to have the opportunity to be together as board members and play and have fun.”

As productive a year as ASB had for CFS, this is not a fling for the bank. Wacker sees this as a long-term relationship.

“This is a multi-year thing for us, not a one-time sponsorship,” says Wacker. “How are we going to build on this? That is more rewarding for our people; that is why we tied it to things where our staff had a passion already. Our people really like to work with these guys.”

There is a lot to like about CFS, which chooses to deal with the hard issues that many prefer to ignore, including sexual abuse and domestic violence, which can devastate our young people.

“People don’t like to talk about sex-abuse treatment, but children need that help,” says Garval, who ran a similar program in Boston before moving to the Islands.

CFS runs programs on all six major islands, with a staff of 450 helping an estimated 40,000 people a year. It maintains four domestic abuse shelters, all in confidential locations, and never turns away anyone for an inability to pay. It does accept donations of all varieties, from toiletries, cosmetics and bedding to gently used clothing for women and children, but monetary donations tend to be the most effective.

“Unrestricted dollars help the most so we can decide where it needs to go, but all gifts are welcome,” says Garval.

You can help out by giving on its website, childandfamilyservice.org, or charge by phone at 543-8413. During this holiday season, you would be hard-pressed to find a more worthy organization.

“Our mission is to strengthen families and foster healthy children,” says Garval, “and I cannot think of a better mission to be a part of than that, and I am blessed to be a part of this organization.”

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