Many seniors walk for exercise. Then there’s Wayne Kawachi, who at 71 years old was inspired to walk 100 miles — from Honokaa to Naalehu on the Big Island — to raise money for senior housing in his home town.
Kawachi, the founder and president of a nonprofit in Kau, said he was looking for a way to raise funds to build senior housing in Naalehu when he met a man who walked 700 miles as a fundraiser.
That man was 84.
“To make it a little unique, I thought about walking in slippers,” he said.
Although retired, Kawachi is as busy as he was when he worked as a commercial fisherman. His nonprofit — ‘O Ka‘u Kakou — puts on an annual fishing tournament for kids, gives out scholarships, puts on a trail run through coffee fields, participates in the 4th of July parade, maintains a section of highway and old cemeteries, and helps kupuna with repair projects and retrofitting homes to be age friendly.
“I think young and I feel young,” he said. “For me you keep on doing things and that keeps me younger.”
He walks regularly and doesn’t think of himself as “old.”
Scratch that. He didn’t feel old until the first night of his 100-mile walk earlier this month. On the first day, he walked more than 29 miles and that night he said he was hurting and feeling old for the first time in a while.
“I thought I wouldn’t ever walk again,” he said. But the next day he persevered and walked 27 miles. He traveled 22 miles on the third day and by the fourth day, the last 22 miles was a piece of cake.
Kawachi said his legs hurt and he had a blister on one foot, but was otherwise fine after the walk.
He has already raised $54,000 and more donations are coming in.
The owner of the land near the center of Naalehu town is willing to sell it at a significant discount if it is used for affordable senior housing, Kawachi said. ‘O Ka‘u u Kakou and other groups are trying to raise $250,000 and find a development partner to buy the land and build the project.
Kawachi has raised funds for big projects before and is optimistic that the rest of the money will come.
Kawachi’s friend Mike Suminsky says if there’s anyone who can raise the money, it’s Kawachi.
“You got certain people who do things,” Suminsky said, as he and Kawachi bought supplies for home repairs for an older Kau resident. “There’s nobody else like him. He’s just a giver.”
Suminsky said rural Kau is the type of close-knit community where everyone pretty much knows each other and helps each other out. “That’s what they do here. Everybody takes care of everybody else.”
Kawachi said he started his nonprofit not just to keep busy in retirement. He wanted to give back to the community where he was born, raised and raised his own family.
“I look at my life, I am a very fortunate person,” Kawachi said. “I’ve never been in surgery, never been seriously ill. I have a wonderful wife, family, grandkids … I just thought it was time to give back to the community and the people.
“I want to share my happiness with the seniors.”
Barbara Kim Stanton is the state director for AARP Hawaii, an organization dedicated to empowering people to choose how they live as they age.