Kamalani And Kekoa Manner

Photo by Christina O’Connor

Seven years ago, Kamalani and Kekoa Manner, ages 5 and 10 at the time, announced to their mother Leilani Rasa that they wanted to start their own service project: to collect school supplies for other kids. Rasa, of course, supported the idea, as she had been guiding her kids in various volunteer efforts for years. “It is better to give than to receive,” she had always told them.

Kamalani, now 12, and Kekoa, 17, have since made their project a yearly event. They recently completed their seventh annual drive and delivered backpacks filled with school supplies to about 60 children ranging in age from 5 to 17 at Maili Land Transitional Housing in Waianae.

They chose Maili Land, which is run by Catholic Charities Hawaii to provide temporary housing for homeless families, after hearing about the great need at the shelter. Kamalani and Kekoa were used to beginning a new school year with new shoes and new backpacks. When they learned that other kids their age didn’t have even the most basic supplies, they wanted to help out. “From the stories that I heard about the families and the kids, I felt bad,” says Kekoa, a senior at Mililani High School. “Maili Land had kids who didn’t have any backpacks. I thought that I could give school supplies and a new backpack to these kids.”

The Manners collect funds for the project by scouring their Pearl City neighborhood for recyclables.

“We look for things that have been tossed on the street or on the beach and we clean it up, so we are helping the environment, too,” says Kamalani, a seventh-grader at Hanalani Schools.

They also have earned funds through corporate donations. This year, Kamalani also hand-crafted necklaces and bracelets to sell at Kids Inc., a keiki business day at Windward Mall, to raise money.

They target different supplies for the shelter’s varying age groups – cartoon character backpacks and crayons for younger kids, and binders and composition books inside brand-name bags for high school students. All students also receive pens, pencils, rulers and paper.

The siblings hope to expand their project to reach beyond Maili Land – to other parts of the state and the country, perhaps. They also have plans to create an ocean preservation project in the future. Kamalani also hopes to distribute Christmas gifts to seriously ill children for the holidays this year. But no matter what other endeavors they pursue, they say that they will always continue to donate to Maili Land.

“When I first started (the project) and we went to deliver the backpacks, I saw the kids smile,” he says. “And that is what brought me back – watching the kids smile with all the new supplies they just got, and watching the parents be happy that they don’t have to worry about getting supplies.”