Since it began in the '70s, the Visitor Industry Charity Walk has raked in more than $26 million to help out local groups
Special to the Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 28, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014
For Kevin Donnelly the statewide Visitor Industry Charity Walk has always been a passion. Now this festive philanthropic event — which combines exercise with eating and entertainment — is also a labor of love.
"I first ran it, then I walked it and now I drive it. I've done every one since it started in 1978," said Donnelly, 57, a former marathoner whose involvement with the annual fundraiser has shifted from participant to volunteer van driver. His responsibilities: pick up those unable to finish the 6-mile course through Waikiki and break down the course checkpoints when the Oahu walk ends.
"This (charitable event) is just something really special to me, and it is for a good cause," said Donnelly, operations manager for the Queen's Medical Center department responsible for patient room service, housekeeping and training.
If numbers are any indication, tens of thousands share Donnelly's affection for the Visitor Industry Charity Walk: They have helped to raise more than $26.3 million since the event's inception to assist hundreds of local charities.
When this year's walks on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Hawaii island, Molokai and Lanai wrapped up, a single-year record of $1,671,436 was raised, according to the Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association, formerly the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association. There were also more than 14,700 runners and walkers participating, an increase of nearly 66 percent since 2009.
"Ninety-five percent of the funds raised reach charities because hotels absorb much of the administrative costs. Plus, they make lots of donations in time and labor," said Tina Yamaki, former executive director of the state lodging association.
She is credited with turning the fundraiser into a signature event as she organized every walk since 1990 — that's a total of 24 — while rising through the ranks of the hotel trade group.
"And companies that have nothing to do with the (hotel) industry participate," added Yamaki, who recently joined Roberts Hawaii, the transportation and tour company, as director of sales.
Dennis Brown, president and chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii, said the charity walk has a significant impact on the local community because it is able to reach nonprofits that "help all facets of the community — children, youth, the elderly, special needs and the homeless. It also raises the consciousness of the need to give back to the community, and it offers the opportunity to give back to the community."
The charity walk makes a conscious effort to reach more nonprofits by requiring those that have received funding for three successive years to step aside for a year before they can apply again, Brown said. Plus, funds that are raised on a specific island stay on that island.
That sort of fairness means that while Big Brothers Big Sisters programs on Oahu are ineligible for charity walk funding this year, those on the neighbor islands are eligible, Brown explained.
More companies are participating and more charities are benefiting, Yamaki said.
Under Yamaki's leadership the Visitor Industry Charity Walk has become known as an event at which one can both do good and have a good time, especially for folks who enjoy eating tasty treats.
"This is the only walk where you can gain weight," Yamaki is fond of saying.
Indeed, unlike some marathons where people might get only water or oranges during the event, at the charity walk's checkpoints participants are likely to get chocolate chip cookies and other snacks.
Even with his van responsibilities, charity walk veteran Donnelly said he tries to get some food as the walk comes to a close.
"At the Kahala Resort stop, there's spam musubi. At the Prince Hotel, kalua pork sliders. At the Hilton, lately it's been fried rice. Everyone has good food. At some (checkpoint) places there's no place to stop the van."
With a chuckle he added, "What I notice now are some people bringing bags to put food inside."
Yamaki has observed that the walk has become an unofficial company picnic for some participants as they eat, enjoy each other's company and listen to the entertainment, which has included ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and Brickwood Galuteria, the singer, broadcast personality and state senator.
Kelly Hoen, general manager of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the statewide chairwoman for next year's Visitor Industry Charity Walk, said she wants "a friendly competition" between Maui and Oahu.
"Maui has raised more money than Oahu for many, many years," she noted, adding that it might be time for Oahu, with its larger population, to raise more donations than Maui.
This year Maui raised $701,716, the most of any island.
With the 2014 charity walk 10 months away, planning discussions for the event have not yet been held. But Hoen has given thought to possible pre-walk anchor events to raise donations. They include:
» A Christmas craft fair at one of the Waikiki properties owned by her corporate boss, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, that would attract both local residents and tourists.
» A Hawaiian music concert in January or February.
» A bowling competition among all hoteliers in the state.
Hoen said she wants the combined total of 2014 walk-related fundraising to be "a blowout."