To be a leader in our community is no easy feat. To also empower women and eliminate racism makes things a bit more complex.
But for 37 years, YWCA of Oahu has recognized more than 200 women in Honolulu who have accomplished its mission, demonstrating leadership in their community and business.
This year’s honorees – Marilyn Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano, The Honorable Karen Radius, Dr. Cecile Sebastian, D.D.S., and Helen N. Wai – all represent vastly diverse fields of expertise, united by their unflagging devotion to working closely with the community and tomorrow’s generation.
Their efforts will be recognized Tuesday, June 3, at YWCA’s annual LeaderLuncheon held this year at Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.
Though this year marked Marilyn Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano’s 25th anniversary with University of Hawaii at Manoa as its associate athletics director, her history with the department dates back much longer.
In 1972, when women’s volleyball was only just beginning, Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano played on the university’s first team and was one of its first four-year letter winners.
Set in motion by the passage of Title IX, Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano credits the work of leaders such as Dr. Donnis Thompson, U.S. Rep. Patsy T. Mink and Pat Saiki (current chairwoman of the Hawaii Republican Party), among many others, who paved the way for what has become one of Hawaii’s beloved pastimes.
What initially began as a $1 million budget when Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano first began her career with UH has grown to an $8 million budget for women’s athletics. Women’s athletics itself also has grown from 98 participants to approximately 200.
Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano also has continued to be a key player in upholding the department’s compliance with its gender equity plan, currently titled “Believe It, Achieve It.”
“I’m encouraged by the young women, and I see the benefits of women’s participation and how that can help them prepare to have a significant role in the development of our world for the future,” says Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano.
THE HONORABLE KAREN RADIUS
In the late ’80s, Karen Radius decided to specialize in family law, and eventually was appointed as full-time judge in 1994.
Working with juveniles facing time in a detention home, she noticed a rise in the number of girls being arrested.
Their crimes primarily were related to being runaways, or committing truancies, simple assaults, shoplifting and status offenses.
“We weren’t really looking at what was the cause of why she’s running away, why she’s not going to school, what else is going on in their life,” says Radius.
In response to a system that initially was structured for males, Radius founded Hawaii Girls Court, which held its first hearing in September 2004. It was the first of its kind in the nation to provide gender-specific programs and rehabilitation for girls.
Participants usually are on probation or protective supervision, and must enter the program with an adult family member. They also often are facing serious issues with school, mental health, sex abuse or drugs.
Monthly open-court sessions allow girls and their families to check in and interact with one another, and community service and group activities also take place.
Since its inception, Radius has seen arrest and truancy rates drop significantly. Relationships with family members also have improved, and many of its participants are in college, many having gone on to work full-time jobs.
Though she now is retired, Radius still fills in on the bench when her schedule allows, and continues to work closely with Hawaii Girls Court.
“I think juvenile law is the place that there’s some hope, if you do it right and if you connect to the people you’re working with,” she says.
DR. CECILE SEBASTIAN, D.D.S.
At last year’s LeaderLuncheon, Dr. Cecile Sebastian watched a video that detailed a woman’s successful transformation through YWCA’s Dress For Success Honolulu program. But at the end of the presentation, the woman smiled, revealing a missing front tooth.
“From that luncheon, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, gosh, we have the skills, my friends and I,’” says Sebastian, a general and implant dentist who has been practicing for 25 years.
What quickly resulted was Smiles For Success, a nonprofit that works directly with participants enrolled in YWCA’s program, though Sebastian hopes to continue to grow it in the future. Currently, the organization consists of approximately six dentists, who work to provide free emergent dental care for women who may be in oral pain or missing a tooth, like the woman who initially inspired Sebastian.
“Hopefully … help them present their interviews with the confidence and no pain in their mouth,” she says.
Though this is Sebastian’s first nonprofit, she is no stranger to working with the community, volunteering with Hawaii Foodbank, Aloha Medical Mission, Give Kids a Smile and Donated Dental Services.
For Sebastian, her desire to work with the community is something innate, something inexplainable.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a real answer, other than the need is there, and I’m always happy to squeeze it in somehow,” she says with a laugh.
HELEN N. WAI
When Helen N. Wai and her husband applied for a home, they were denied the opportunity, an experience she says “broke our hearts.”
After getting their finances in order and eventually purchasing a home, Wai sought to create a business, Helen N. Wai, LLC, that would assist other families experiencing the same hardships.
What resulted was a career that has spanned 13 years.
In addition to working as a financial literacy consultant, Wai also provides home-buying education and foreclosure prevention.
As a third-generation Hawaiian homestead lessee, she works closely with the primarily native Hawaiian population in Nanakuli, which Wai says is the largest Native Hawaiian homestead in the state. It also is where Wai grew up and continues to live.
Her biggest reward, she says, is working with families from the beginning of the process until the moment they move into their homes.
“I feel as if I’m moving into a home all over again,” she says.
For the past three years, Wai also has worked as Hawaii Energy’s ambassador, educating communities on five islands in three counties about the necessity of energy efficiency. The partnership was a result of a lasting impression Wai left on a community on Molokai, which enjoyed her teaching style and recommended her to the organization.
“They’ve been my biggest advocates and marketers, helping me to go into more communities and do more outreach,” she says of those with whom she has worked in the past.
Individual tickets to YWCA’s 2014 LeaderLuncheon may be purchased online at ywcaoahu.org.