Yearlong Cheer Tops Resolutions

Holiday cheer and gift-giving come easily with great enthusiasm during November and December, but once January starts kicking in, so do the New Year’s blues. For a few of us, the sudden return to our normal routines may be a “chore or a bore,” but what if we could harness all that holiday joy, elation and generosity and spread them throughout the year?

I’m in no way, shape or form a New Year’s resolutions expert, but permit me to offer a set of three principles that may serve as a guide while you pen your 2014 goals. The three principles are: 1) Emphasize the Mahalo Principle; Thank Someone Every Day, 2) Care For and Nurture Someone in Need and 3) Look For Ways to Give of Your Heart, Hands And Time.

When I was mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, I was blessed with a cabinet and senior staff that was very talented, gifted and selfless. When I assembled them, I did not do it on the basis of political affiliation or ideology, or whether I enjoyed a longtime personal relationship with them. A first-time meeting for some of them was when they walked through the door for an interview.

In fact, the net result was a collection of individuals who were Democrats, Republicans and Independents, and included more women to ever serve in that capacity at City Hall. We shared some goals in common: 1) to make a collective contribution to our community, 2) to leave the place better than we found it and 3) to buy in to a certain core philosophy that would guide our actions.

A fundamental leadership maxim that perhaps served as an overarching principle was to emphasize and prioritize the Mahalo Principle. Toddlers learn that a simple “thank you” can go a long way. Each time a child is given a Popsicle, those words usually result in additional treats or a pat on the back. Later in life we realize that saying “thank you” can help facilitate respectful discussions, garner mutual respect from friend or foe and melt the hearts of those who need to hear those golden words the most.

Throughout life, we sometimes overlook or take for granted the very people who look out for us or truly care about our well-being. Expressing mahalo simply helps to underscore two very powerful words in the English language: gratitude and appreciation. I recall when I was a White House fellow to then-Vice President George H. W. Bush, he was the most meticulous public official I ever witnessed when it came to saying “thank you.” His trademark was handwriting a personal note immediately to someone he wanted to acknowledge for a good deed. Needless to say, these brief and succinct mahalo messages written on a 4-by-6 card became treasured mementoes to everyone who received such a personalized note.

So try saying or writing “thank you” daily, especially to someone who least expects it. The results may surprise you.

Engaging in charitable projects, particularly during the holidays, is not a difficult thing to do during Christmastime when the spirit of selfless acts envelops us. How about extending our caring and nurturing nature 365 days a year? Are there family members, loved ones, associates or individuals you hardly know battling life-threatening diseases? When was the last time you gave them a call, visited them at their bedside or flew across the miles to offer comfort and aid?

Through the years, I have experienced my fair share of these visiting moments. I am grateful for the values my parents instilled in me that we should never be too busy to care for someone in need. Time constraints and personal projects may prevent us from penciling in precious visits with those who have cheered us up when were down, and who are now themselves experiencing rough spots in their lives – be it financially, spiritually, or perhaps through health challenges. Life is filled with peaks and valleys, struggles and dreams, trials and blessings, but do we ever think and ponder that perhaps a side benefit to those who endure hardships is so that the people around them can be strengthened and blessed? Think about it.

A living example of the first two principles in action are Cheryl-Lee Kekumu and Danny Goya. Once homeless, Kekumu had no choice but to live on the beach with her family. A chance encounter with Goya in 2007 was the key in turning around her life. Goya is the program manager of the Partners in Development Program Foundation (PIDF), a nonprofit organization that addresses the needs of at-risk communities, particularly Native Hawaiians. He found Kekumu on a beach in Maili and took the time to reach out to her, care for and nurture someone in need.

“We brought her food, and some toys and books for her children. Later she and her family transitioned into the Onelau’ena Shelter operated by the Waianae Community Outreach,” says Goya.

Years later, when PIDF transitioned from a parent-engagement preschool to include an intensive adult education program, Goya hired Kekumu, who is now on track to graduate with a B.A. in early childhood education.

“The parenting component she learned from Ka Pa’alana Traveling Preschool and Homeless Family Education Program has helped her children to prepare for formal education,” explains Goya.

Kekumu agrees: “I feel very blessed and loved that God has put people like Danny Goya in my circle of friends. He has made a major impact in the lives of our homeless population. Such an honor to be teaching in the very program that rescued me, and I take the time to regularly say mahalo to the leader who made the difference in my life.”

Finally, another way to extend our heartfelt contributions every day of the year is to proactively and creatively look for opportunities to give of ourselves in the service of others.

A few years ago, I found myself being very impressed with NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, who hung up his cleats and took a job at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., to teach math and coach football. From all accounts, the 14-year NFL veteran has been performing both tasks very well.

Fast forward to the present, we find that the 41-year-old Kitna came out of retirement recently to be a backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys in their most important game of the year against the Philadelphia Eagles. What was even more impressive is that Kitna was willing to donate his entire $53,000 paycheck to Lincoln. He is proof positive that the “Spirit of Christmas” can be more than one day a year.

We can’t all be philanthropists on the magnitude of Kitna, but we can enter the new year with the attitude that it is always better to give of our heart, hands and time.

Here’s wishing you and your family a great year in 2014!