Kiwanis clubs on the island of Maui come together to provide a free day of education and fun for families.
Story and photography by Kasey Jackson
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Valley Isle Keiki Fest is an annual event held by the Kiwanis Club of Valley Isle, Maui. Kiwanis magazine takes a look back at coverage from the 2012 event.
A young girl breaks free of her mom’s hand and runs toward the sparkly, colorful hula-hoops that lie scattered on the ground, only to stop short of touching them. She looks around to see if anyone’s watching. Left. Right. Then left again. She looks back over her shoulder. Her mom gives an approving nod, and the little girl bends her knees and reaches down to grasp a glittery pink and purple hula hoop firmly in her hands. A huge smile spreads across her face as she steps into the hoop and begins to maneuver it like an old pro. Within minutes, there are at least a dozen children of all ages and sizes, giggling as they wiggle inside the colorful hoops.
It’s already warm on this Saturday morning in April on the island of Maui in Hawaii. A line of low-lying clouds floats across the summit of the West Maui mountains, providing the perfect backdrop to the annual Valley Isle Keiki Fest, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Valley Isle, Maui, and held on the campus of the University of Hawaii, Maui College. This is the club’s Kiwanis One Day event, and it brings together Kiwanis members from all the Maui clubs—along with Key Club members—with help from several other partners, including Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui.
The Valley Isle Kiwanis club has been staging this event for the past seven years and has the planning down to a science. And that’s good, because an estimated 5,000 people attended the free festival in 2012.
“We’ve done this event for so many years now that we recognize and utilize each other’s talents,” says 2011–12 club President Anne Diola. “This year it’s really smooth. It’s to the point now that people in the community reach out to us to find out when Keiki Fest will be. We’ve hit a groove.”
That groove comes from months and months of hard work. Everyone has a job to do: posters, advertising, parking, volunteers, vendors, entertainment … the list goes on and on. And everyone is working toward the same goal.
“The event touches the lives of so many people,” says Shari Yamamoto, 2011–12 secretary of the Kiwanis Club of Valley Isle. “Teamwork is so important to make it a success, and we’re just really proud of being part of something like this.”
Every volunteer has a favorite Keiki Fest moment.
“Seeing the little ones with their parents, many of them on a college campus for the first time, brings a tear to my eye,” says Kiwanian Jan Shishido, a festival co-chairwoman. “This event targets disadvantaged families, but of course everyone in the community is invited. It’s a free event that offers everything from a bike safety course to entertainment to affordable food vendors and crafts. Our goal is to have all the kids leave here with something—and it’s been a success year after year.”
The club has sponsors of varying levels, which helps keep costs down. A restaurant offers food at a discount price, and the culinary school on campus plays a big part by offering up their kitchen for food preparation. Key Club students volunteer, along with hundreds of other community members who come out for the event. They’re there months in advance, at planning meetings, and they’re there late the night before, setting up the campus. Then they’re back before the sun comes up to put on the final touches before families arrive.
Some volunteers come back year after year—and some even travel to do so.
“We worked it last year, and we happen to be here again and we wanted to help,” says Leetta Nutting, a Kiwanian from Sonora, California. “There are so many neat activities for the kids. We just really enjoy helping out.”
It’s proven to be quite popular. Even the mayor of Maui takes part.
Mayor Alan Arakawa is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Kahului, and he proudly wears his Kiwanis pin everywhere he goes. For this year’s event, he names April the Month of the Young Child and delivers a proclamation naming the 2012 Valley Isle Keiki Fest the official Kiwanis One Day project. The morning of the event he’s on stage to offer a welcome message, asking the community to continue to “work together to make sure our keiki are safe and taken care of.” Then he hops over to the Kiwanis tent for “County on your Corner,” where he answers questions from citizens about anything of concern in the community. He even poses with families and a few furry friends before the day is done.
There’s entertainment on the stage. Kids are lining up at the bike safety course to take a spin, and families are enjoying games at the Keiki Zone. The cheerleaders are warming up with back-handsprings, and children and parents are oohing and ahhing over the colorful vintage cars on display on the lawn. The fire department is on hand to provide free child identification cards—and the line is out the door. Vendors inside the air-conditioned student lounge are selling jewelry, fabrics, purses and more. There are a few tattoo artists (temporary, of course), and the cotton candy lady has a growing swarm of customers at her tent. It’s warm. It’s busy. And families are laughing together.
Maui resident Kim Partyka smiles as she looks around at all the tents and activity around her.
“This is very nice,” she says. “There’s so much stuff to see and do here. We signed our 15-month-old daughter up for swim lessons. We’ll definitely come back next year.”
All the events during Keiki Fest are popular, but one area still seems to draw the biggest crowd. It’s the hula hoops, and kids (and parents) are having a blast. Some see who can go the longest, while the tiniest tots watch the older kids to learn the tricks.
Kisha Milling, owner of Hoopnatyze, is the vendor with the popular hoops. She’s all smiles as the crowd grows and grows around her tent.
“This is one of my favorite family events,” says Milling. “It’s such a child-centered event. It’s so nice that the Kiwanis clubs make sure it’s affordable and the kids get a ton of free stuff. It’s so important in the community to see the mayor here—that’s really special. And the event is for kids of all ages.
“As a vendor, it’s so wonderful too, because the Kiwanis members and other volunteers are so organized. Maui isn’t a big community, and it can be so expensive to do things, especially if you have a big family. But here, kids of all ages play together. The hula hoops bring out the fun side in everyone. It’s such a great event.”
Emily Bartow is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Valley Isle and is also the unit director of Central Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui. She sees the benefits of this project from both sides—as a member of Kiwanis and also as an employee of the club’s Boys & Girls Club partner.
“For me, my objective is to have my older kids running the show and giving back to the younger kids,” she says. “For them to give back to the community and to Kiwanis. And everyone takes part—everyone walks away with something. We don’t have losers; we have participants, that’s what I like to say. And it’s true. To have kids working with kids, it’s a win-win situation. It’s teaching life experiences.”
And just as Keiki Fest Coordinator Jan Shishido says, it’s all about the smiles on the kids’ faces.
“I don’t want to go home,” says a beaming 5-year-old named Jeremy. “I like the bounce house too much.”