Wonder Women

Junior League of Honolulu board members (back, from left) Angelina Mercado, Mary Benson, Erika Mazur, (middle) Wendie McAllaster, Jayme Alexander and (front) Tarah Kawal LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

Junior League of Honolulu has been training women for leadership and nonprofit roles for nearly a century. The organization will celebrate its milestone with a fundraising luncheon April 6.

As Junior League of Honolulu celebrates 95 years of service on O‘ahu, the women in charge are gearing up for its annual fundraising luncheon, while making plans to bolster the organization moving forward.

The nonprofit — one of 300 chapters in four countries — focuses its efforts on supporting voluntaristic women who want to improve their neighborhoods and communities through positive action — all under the theme of “Unstoppable.”

It does so through mentorship and legacy training, thanks to sustaining members (those who have been affiliated with the league for decades) who give of their time to train new and up-and-coming women, who, in turn, progress and train the next group of women professionals.

“We want to continue the legacy of our past members and sustaining members,” says president-elect Rena Tomlinson, a manager with Morgan Stanley.

She touts the philanthropic mindset of those who have come before her, and extends her gratitude to the foundation they have already laid. It’s because of them that current members can gain valuable administrative experience to help their communities both as individuals and through other nonprofits.

That process is the main goal of Junior League of Honolulu.

“We’re all about training community leaders; those that seek training and leadership development and community involvement,” adds current president Tarah Kawal, who owns coffee shop The Bean Counter at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Kawal originally joined Junior League in 2007 while living in San Diego, and has been with the Honolulu chapter for more than a decade now. Though her time as president is coming to a close (Tomlinson will step into the leading role this summer), Kawal only plans to become more involved with the league going forward.

“I am still receiving training,” she says. “I think it’s important to always learn, and once you have mastered something, to be able to teach those who are learning.”

With so many local nonprofits on O‘ahu alone, there are dozens of ways for Junior League of Honolulu members to help out, whether it’s fundraising, event management, budgeting or strategic planning.

It’s why the majority of its members do just that. They’re out in their communities, sitting on boards and providing valuable input.

“Some even sit on multiple boards,” adds Tomlinson, who oversees the youth ministry at her church and volunteers to teach yoga for the staff at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children.

“Others volunteer on their own or are on their community, kids’ schools or neighborhood boards,” she adds.

The flexibility to extend her reach across a number of different industries is what drew Tomlinson to the organization more than five years ago. As a member of Junior League of Honolulu, she has been able to dip her toes into arenas of nonprofit work she would never have been able to experience on her own.

“There’s a lot of knowledgeable people who have done this before,” she says of the membership. “You have a safe place for learning and experimenting with these new techniques or different procedures.”

It all comes down to giving back, and being able to do so in the most efficient and impactful way possible, and this notion is something Tomlinson as incoming president will work toward this coming year.

“We’re extending our vision and making it a lot stronger, so we can go into our 100th anniversary,” she says. “And no matter how old or young you are, the league is a great and safe place to gain experience and knowledge.”

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The Latest On Luxe

Junior League of Honolulu presents its annual Luxe luncheon fundraiser and fashion show from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 6 at The Kāhala Hotel & Resort.

Junior League of Honolulu president Tarah Kawal and president-elect Rena Tomlinson

In addition to honoring Laura N. Dowsett Award winner Pokey Watson Richardson (see accompanying story at right), Junior League of Honolulu will recognize RYSE Hawai‘i with a $5,000 grant.

Funds raised through ticket and silent auction sales will go toward the league’s training programs and community/individual grants.

Luncheon tickets are $150 or $1,500 for a table of 10. Visit for more information.

And The Award Goes To …

Each year, Junior League of Honolulu honors a sustaining member with the Laura N. Dowsett Award.

The accolade, according to the nonprofit, recognizes a sustaining member whose personality of voluntarism positively impacts communities. This year’s honoree is Pokey Watson Richardson (pictured above), who joined the league back in 1984, and is known for her focus on philanthropy and natural athleticism.

The latter, while impressive — she was the first female head coach of University of Southern California’s women’s swim team and an Olympic champion swimmer — takes a metaphorical backseat to the good she’s done for others.

In addition to serving as past president and board member for Junior League of Honolulu, she also has served in various capacities at Punahou School, where she and husband Allen sent their children, and sat on boards for the U.S. Swimming Olympic Committee, American Swimming Coaches Association, Hawai‘i chapter of the U.S. Olympians Association, Friends of Hawai‘i School of Medicine, Family Promise Hawai‘i, Garden Club of Honolulu and more.

“It’s really important that we take an active role in our communities,” Richardson says. “For any young woman interested in finding what her passion might be and in learning more about developing leadership skills, the league is a wonderful place to get involved.”