True Knights

Anchi Howitz of Aloha Animal Sanctuary, Shannon Shima of Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha, and Sharon Dahlquist (with canine Nani) of Assistance Dogs of Hawai‘i contemplate their next move with GIFT Foundation event co-chairs Tony Mizuno, Alison Tomisato Alves and Erica Mau Orejel.

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.

Thankfully, when you play the “GIFT of Thrones,” everyone wins — and they help others win, too.

GIFT Foundation’s annual fundraiser bash, held last weekend at Maui Brewing Co. at Waikīkī Beachcomber by Outrigger, paid tribute to one of the biggest pop culture titans of the year, all for a good — and considerably less fire-and-blood-filled — cause.

“It’s always a party,” says co-chair Alison Tomisato Alves about the event. “But more than anything, it enables people to be able to contribute to nonprofits that traditionally aren’t able to hold these large fundraisers and giving opportunities.”

In fact, that’s what GIFT Foundation is all about.

“GIFT offers our membership, and our board members in particular, the chance to really create and program this event every year that’s completely unique and different, and pick beneficiaries every year that are completely unique and different,” Tomisato Alves says.

“This enables us to cast a very wide net and help nonprofits across the state.”

GIFT Foundation also seeks to rally young community leaders — tying into the nonprofit’s overall focus on children and educational causes.

“GIFT is really about engaging the next generation of leaders in our city in the art of philanthropic giving and helping our community,” explains co-chair Tony Mizuno.

And it’s a formula that pays off — over the past 15 years, the nonprofit has raised $3 million for more than 65 groups across the state.

“It’s not your parents’ charity,” jokes co-chair Erica Mau Orejel.

GIFT Foundation event co-chairs Erica Mau Orejel, Tony Mizuno and Alison Tomisato Alves are ready to party.

This year, GIFT Foundation’s three beneficiaries are Assistance Dogs of Hawai‘i, Aloha Animal Sanctuary and Hoa ‘Āina O Mākaha.


Seeing one of the service dogs of Maui-based Assistance Dogs of Hawai‘i brings a smile to everyone’s face.

“We raise and train, and we place service dogs for people with limited mobility, hospital facility dogs and courthouse dogs,” explains assistant director Sharon Dahlquist. “We place the dog free of charge, and that also includes lifetime follow-up.”

A few famous canines trained by the nonprofit include Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children’s cadre of dogs, past and present: Tucker, Winnie and now, Nani, the “lion-hearted” Labrador who works in the Kapi‘olani Women’s Cancer Center.

About 15 dogs a year graduate from the extensive training protocols that Assistance Dogs puts its canines through. New puppies are always coming into the Makawao campus.

The grant from GIFT Foundation will primarily help the nonprofit expand its community outreach programs, which include hosting other groups on campus visits (where, for example, Easterseals regularly comes to visit the dogs and maintain the grounds), a free summer camp for children with limited mobility, presentations, hospital visits and more.

Dahlquist says that one dog can have a huge impact.

“Tucker reached thousands and thousands of children,” she says of the late, good-hearted golden retriever, who spent 10 years working at Kapi‘olani. “Our courthouse dogs allow a child who has been a victim of crime to tell their story to the dog, or just to even pet the dog in court when their abuser could be sitting 10 feet from them.

“It’s really what can we do to help people through difficult times?”

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When a dog or cat is in need, there are multiple nonprofits and shelters ready to step in and save them.

Aloha Animal Sanctuary has a different purpose.

“We rescue farmed animals who are in danger of perhaps being slaughtered, maybe they’ve been in a neglectful situation or just they urgently need to be rescued,” explains Anchi Howitz, director of operations for the nonprofit.

“We bring them to our sanctuary where they can live their whole life.”

Farmed animals, she explains, include pigs, goats, chickens, ducks and (in the future) cows. The nonprofit is the first on O‘ahu to dedicate itself to farmed animals.

“They are among the most exploited animals on the planet, and they don’t often-times have a refuge or place to go, unlike companion animals,” Howitz says.

Right now, 13 animals are comfortably situated at the Kahalu‘u shelter, as well as about 50 chickens (that have taken up residence on their own terms).

Of course, the sanctuary is about much more than saving animals — education is at the root of what it does, and that is precisely what GIFT Foundation’s grant will facilitate.

The goal, says Howitz, is to build a learning center on the 2-acre property, where the nonprofit will be able to hold workshops, classes and visitor days, where people can meet the residents and learn more about how they can help end their systemic mistreatment.

“The mission of the sanctuary is to be a place where people can form a connection to farmed animals, so they can see them as the individuals they are. We hope that through that, people can make more choices in their daily life, like going vegan or plant-based.”

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Nestled right next to Mākaha Elementary School, Hoa ‘Āina O Mākaha has been operated for 40 years as a farm — but one that grows more than produce.

“We tell people we that we work on a farm, and they always ask us, ‘Oh, what kind of vegetables do you grow?’ We do grow vegetables, but the main focus is we always grow people,” says Shannon Shima, program coordinator of the farm’s Na Keiki O Ka ‘Āina unit.

“We’re more of an educational farm, and our version of self-sustainable is helping people. The more people help each other, the better off that we’ll all be.”

To that end, the farm has spawned numerous programs that pursue this goal.

The Na Keiki project, for example, is a long-running partnership with Mākaha Elementary School that sees the farm serve as, well, a 5-acre school garden that facilitates all and any lessons the school wishes to pursue. There’s also a container garden workshop series that teaches community members how to grow their own food. Lā‘au Lapa-‘au classes demonstrate how to use plants as home healing remedies. The farmers market team offers vegetables on a “take what you need, leave what you can” basis.

“There was one woman who wasn’t able to pay us or leave a donation that day,” remembers Shima. “But they gave her the vegetables anyway. And then the next week, she came back and gave us a $20 donation, as well as a dish that she made with whatever we had given her. It really shows the camaraderie in the community and how we operate.”

GIFT Foundation’s grant will simply help the tiny operation keep things running.

“There’s always so much need for what we do,” Shima says.

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