A Generous Spirit Of Giving Back

One of the perks of my semi-retired life as a columnist and volunteer board member for one of the best charities in the state – Hawaii Foodbank – is that I get to meet people who inspire me. They are ordinary folks, not superheroes, who live life as best they can despite the often wrenching hurdles thrown their way. These people may be poorer than many of us can imagine, but wealth isn’t the most important measure of a person’s success.

What I look for is spirit. And if you ever feel the need for a lesson in the indomitable spirit of humanity, all you have to do is spend a few minutes with Valerie Koyaso: wife, mother and volunteer.

She’s also a survivor of brain cancer – not once, but twice.

Fourteen years ago, Valerie was diagnosed with the potential killer for the first time. She and her husband traveled to California so she could get lifesaving surgery. In the midst of the confusion, the fear and the uncertainty over the type of future she and her husband would have together – or whether they would even have a future at all – Valerie received another shock. She was pregnant. To Valerie, it was joyful news and provided her with a jolt of hope. She had her surgery and delivered her miracle – a beautiful baby girl.

Years later, more heartbreak when her cancer came back. Yet her spirit never wavered. She fought again – and won again. But her fragile health meant another financial setback for her family.

Today she’s cancer-free and conducts her life the way she always has – in service to her family and her community. Despite not being able to work at a regular job, she has always volunteered with her church’s food pantry whenever she could. With so many ups and downs, the family has had to depend on outside help and she wants to make sure to show her appreciation. And it’s even more important to her now that the tables are turned and she’s caring for her husband for a change.

“My husband had surgery five weeks ago, so we’ve had to tighten the belt buckle a little bit more. So more so I want to give back and help.

“One of the things we had to learn when I had the brain tumor – my husband was taking care of me and we had to learn not to be prideful, to be humble and willing to accept help from others.”

So as much as they receive, her family will give back by volunteering as much as they can. It’s their way of showing gratitude. It’s why she tells other people who are struggling themselves to not be ashamed: “It’s temporary until you can do it yourself.”

In speaking with Valerie, I was struck by her cheerful attitude and her lack of self-pity. She feels she was given a second – and third – chance at life. She tries at every opportunity to pay it forward. The only way she can do that is by giving her time, so that’s what she does.

It’s easy to be a hero when you have money, when life is easy. But the people I admire most are those who create oases of caring and love even in the face of hardship. Life keeps knocking them down and they keep getting up. How is that not inspiring? It certainly is to me.

The holiday season is upon us. The economy is slowing improving. People already are out shopping for shiny new things to please the loved ones in their lives.

I hope you’ll pause this season to consider the Valeries in our community. Please, if you would, pay it forward in any way you can – be it money, or goods, or a bit of your time.

A little bit of goodness goes a long, long way.