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HEI powers up giving

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    Hawaiian Electric Industries employees and their families spent a recent Saturday at Ka'ala Farm in Wai­anae, clearing the farm's taro patches among other tasks. HEI also presented a $50,000 check to the farm on behalf of Hawaiian Electric Co.

Hawaiian Electric Industries’ commitment to be a "good corporate citizen" has grown in recent years to include a greater focus on tracking the results of its charitable giving and increased participation by its employees in community events.

Through its charitable foundation and contributions from employees, the largest publicly traded company in the state gave about $2 million to various community causes in 2012. On top of that HEI workers donated more than 12,000 hours of volunteer work in the community.

"HEI, its subsidiary companies and their employees have a long history of giving back to the communities we serve," said Alan Oshima, HEI executive vice president for corporate and community advancement.

The HEI companies include Hawaiian Electric Co., Maui Electric, Hawaii Electric Light Co. and American Savings Bank. Corporate giving is done through the HEI Charitable Foundation, which is funded primarily by shareholders.

Oshima noted that the company’s charitable giving has evolved over time.

"Most recently HEICF is becoming more focused on tracking outcomes of its gifts to ensure they are effective in attaining the intended community benefits," Oshima said. "We believe this accountability helps our giving practices and the organizations to which we donate, improving their performance as well.

"Also, when practical and possible, we want to include our employees as volunteers in projects that our gifts support. Our giving policies are evolving to include more connections with our employees," he said.

Toward that end about 60 Hawaiian Electric employees and their friends and families spent a recent Saturday at Ka‘ala Farm in Wai­anae, helping rebuild a thatched hale destroyed by a fire last year and clearing some of the farm’s loi kalo, or wetland taro patches, that had become overgrown with weeds. HEI also presented a $50,000 check to the farm on behalf of HECO.

Ka‘ala Farm is an ancient agricultural complex that offers hands-on educational science programs to thousands of students each year.

Dawn Wong, who works in HECO’s community relations department, opted to help prepare logs to be used in the reconstruction of the hale, while her 11-year-old daughter, Kelsey, jumped at the chance to get muddy in the loi.

"She was covered with mud but had a great time," Wong said. "It was really cute: The day before we went I overheard her talking to her girlfriends about how excited she was to be going," Wong said. Her daughter had a good idea of what she was in for, having gone to the farm a few years earlier on a school field trip, Wong added.

"We’re looking forward to doing more of these types of projects in the future. It’s perfect for kids her age to be able to give back to the community. It’s also a great way to see fellow employees and their families outside of work," Wong said.

Outdoor projects such as the farm effort have become so popular with HECO workers that the company has started using a lottery system to select participants, said Bri­ana Ackerman, a senior community affairs consultant for the utility.

An outing to the Papa­hana Kua­loa taro patches near Kaneohe drew about 200 volunteers, Ackerman said.

"The environmental projects are very popular," Ackerman said. "It’s an opportunity to be outdoors, and many of these are historic places that you can’t go to normally."

The HEI Charitable Foundation focuses its giving in four categories: educational excellence, environmental sustainability, economic growth and community development, Oshima said.

The amount donated annually has remained fairly constant through the last decade and is not pegged to the company’s financial performance, according to Oshima.

"HEI Inc. believes that every company operating in Hawaii must also be a good corporate citizen and help improve the communities in which it operates. The HEI companies … are Hawaii-based, owned and operated. Whatever improves Hawaii’s society and economy helps all Hawaii’s people and businesses," Oshima said.

Major donations made by the HEI Charitable Foundation in 2012:

Aloha United Way: $440,000
Keaau Laptop Program: $300,000
Child & Family Services: $86,000
Ka‘ala Farm: $50,000
Kalani High School: $25,000
American Heart Association: $17,000
Kona Hospital: $12,000

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