Please join us in congratulating this year's honorees!
Mahalo to everyone who submitted a nomination and shared the incredible work that’s going on in the community. Out of nearly 90 total entries, our panel of community judges chose these finalists and winners.
Winner: Christian Wong, Hawaiʻi STEM Community Care
Finalist: David Miyashiro, HawaiiKidsCAN
Finalist: Punahele Provisions
Winner: ADM Architecture + Interiors
Finalist: ʻIolani School
Finalist: Wesley Children’s Programs
Winner: Elisapeta T. Lesatele Alaimaleata, Le Fetuao Samoan Language School
Finalist: Cristina and Devin Pagaduan, Pastele House Maui
Finalist: Susan Rocco, Special Parent Information Network
Kalākaua Middle School Custodian Team
Kōkua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services
YMCA of Honolulu
Economic Security/Social Services
Carla Houser, RYSE
Early Learning (Individual)
Debbi Amaral, Maui Economic Opportunity Head Start
Early Learning (Organization)
Maui Family Support Services, Inc. Early Head Start
Karl Higa, Noelani Elementary School
Malaea Wetzel, Haleʻiwa Elementary School
Virtual awards ceremony on April 7, 2021
The virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, from 6-7 pm recognized all of these amazing Champions For Children.
Congratulate the honorees on social media
Click the images below to download them. Tag us @HCAN_HI or “Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network” on Facebook.
About the honorees
Winner, Innovator Award
Christian Wong is a happily married father of two young boys and the director of the Hawaii Science and Technology Museum. He graduated from the University of Hawaii at Hilo with a B.A. in Natural Science and a minor in Earth and Space Sciences in 2000. Christian has had a lifelong love of science and science education, founding HSTM in 2015 to bring the fun and excitement of STEM to kids across Hawaii. He also served the community for 25 years in the Hawaii Fire Department as a Fire Captain, retiring in 2020.
Christian led the development of numerous HFD programs to improve operations and safety, and to prepare the county for large scale disasters. He served as Operations Section Chief for the Hawaii Island Incident Management Team where he led field operations during the 2018 Kilauea Eruption. Christian was recognized as the Aloha Exchange Club Firefighter of the Year in 2010 for his work in preparing Hawaii County for the 2009 influenza pandemic, named Supervisor of the Year for the County of Hawaii in 2015, and received the VEX Robotics Community Service Award and the International Society for Technology in Education Making IT Happen Award in 2020. He loves to spend his free time with his family and enjoys reading, hiking, music, coaching youth robotics teams, and is a member of the American Nuclear Society.
Finalist, Innovator Award
David Miyashiro is the founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN, where he partners with families and community members to promote education innovation and equity in Hawaii. Highlights in this role have included passing legislation to increase access to computer science education, creating the We Are Voices of Excellence youth advocacy program, and launching innovations such as Wifi on Wheels, Spark & Inspire, Wahine Processing Power, and the Hawaii Education Innovation Showcase.
David is a proud fourth-generation Hawaii resident who was raised in Windward O‘ahu. After graduating from Brandeis University in Massachusetts, he returned to Hawaii to teach special education language arts at Wahiawa Middle School through Teach For America-Hawai‘i, also earning his master’s degree in special education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The frustration he felt as a teacher during the infamous Furlough Fridays debacle—during which budget constraints closed public schools for 17 Fridays, reducing instructional time for what was already one of the shortest school years in the country—inspired him to pursue a master’s in education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He worked in politics and government as press secretary for U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono in Washington, D.C. and communications director for the Ann Callis for Congress campaign in Illinois. He returned to Hawaii and Teach For America in 2015 to manage communications, media and public relations for the region and provide support to the executive director.
David’s board service has included the Kailua Neighborhood Board, Common Cause Hawaii, James Campbell High School’s Academy of Public and Human Services, and the Friends of Hawaii Technology Academy, as well as numerous Hawaii State Department of Education stakeholder groups. He is an alumnus of the Weinberg Fellows program and PIE Network Leadership Institute.
Finalist, Innovator Award
Punahele Provisions is a Public Benefit Corporation on a mission to create the best baby food for the world and to bring it to the world by: sourcing ingredients sustainably, processing them minimally, and presenting them transparently.
ADM Architecture + Interiors
Winner, Family-Friendly Employer Award
ADM Architecture + Interiors have been putting ourselves into our clients’ shoes since 2000. Whether it is a new home, a store or a restaurant, we treat each project as if we would be living in it, working in it or playing in it. We carefully weigh the decisions that are made and prioritize them to work with each client’s goals, budget and schedule. When a project is complete, we make it a practice to check how the decisions that were made in planning are working in actuality and take those learning lessons into each project that follows. Our talented, dedicated staff of architects, designers and consultants immerse themselves into our projects and bring thoughtful, creative solutions to the table that enable us to deliver high quality projects consistently. Our successful track record has helped to build our business primarily through referrals. We have established repeat business relationships with brands such as Town & Country Surf, ABC Stores, Bishop Museum, SSA Concessionaires, Waikiki Business and Shopping Plaza, Sunglass Hut and Go Wireless.
Finalist, Family-Friendly Employer Award
ʻIolani School is a co-educational, college-preparatory school for grades K-12 founded upon Christian principles. Its mission is to develop liberally educated, well-rounded individuals who are well prepared for higher education and for responsible, moral citizenship.
To foster academic excellence and personal growth, a school must be challenging and competitive yet compassionate and nurturing. The 'Iolani motto "One Team" expresses the spirit of unselfish cooperation and mutual support among faculty, staff, coaches, parents and students.
'Iolani School is committed to the following ideals:
- An education which reflects its Episcopal Church heritage and provides a spiritual foundation for the development of personal values and moral integrity
- An exemplary college preparatory curriculum with small classes, personalized instruction and frequent occasions to speak, listen, think and write
- The development of individuals who are creative and inquisitive, who can analyze and synthesize information to solve problems, and who conduct themselves with confidence, discretion, tolerance and compassion
- A student body diverse in cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds who bring the best combination of intellect, talent, character and leadership to the school
- Programs which offer students ample opportunity to develop their ability and confidence in intellectual, spiritual, social, aesthetic and physical pursuits
- A balance of commitment to personal growth with concern for others
- Lifelong learning and active, informed, productive citizenship in the local, national and global communities
Wesley Children’s Program
Finalist, Family-Friendly Employer Award
The Wesley Children’s Program was built around 1968 in the Kahala area by the Wesley United Methodist Church as an outreach to the community offering part-time and full-time programs in a loving Christian atmosphere. We are licensed to serve 54 children by the State of Hawaii under the Department of Human Services.
The Wesley Children’s Program’s mission is to provide a safe, healthy and nurturing environment that will stimulate learning in every child’s developmental areas. We will strive to provide hands-on age appropriate opportunities using the Creative Curriculum framework.
Elisapeta T. Lesatele Alaimaleata
Winner, Unsung Hero Award
Elisapeta T. Lesatele Alaimaleata is from American Samoa and the Independent Nation of Samoa. She and her husband have raised 5 children while he served in the U.S. Military for 18 years. During his numerous world-wide assignments, Elisapeta held down the fort at home in the State of Hawaii.
Outside of work and her family, she enjoys many hobbies, however, one in particular combines her personal passions and professional interests – she loves to talk story with elderly community members, her own way of connecting herself with her ancestors. In fact, her elder discussions are just another way she constantly demonstrates her belief in, and commitment to lifelong learning. In 1988, she graduated from Faga‘itua High School in American Samoa as the Salutatorian of her graduating class.
Having garnered scholarships and a congressional award for her academic achievements, she started her journey through higher education at American Samoa Community College where she earned an Associate of Arts degree after two years. As a product of American Samoa Department of Education, she taught in the public schools for more than 10 years before moving to Hawai’i. She obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education from the University of Hawaii – Manoa. With her beliefs in having a good future with a college education, her children are now attending the same university she attended, UH-Manoa. Currently, she is continuing her studies by pursuing her doctoral degree in Education at the University of Phoenix.
Cristina and Devin Pagaduan
Finalists, Unsung Hero Award
We had our first child in 2011. When our daughter was in preschool, Devin had to miss out on a few ‘family nights’ at preschool. After a few missed activities, we realized that we wanted to be parents who were “present” for our children. We knew our jobs at the time wouldn’t allow us the freedom to do that. Devin left his job as a Maui Police Officer and I left my job as a (Part-Time) Teacher and an After School program Coordinator. With no prior cooking education, just a love for food, we decided to open a Food Truck. In 2015, we successfully opened Pastele House Maui Food Truck. We started off with just a few specialty dishes but we have since expanded our menu to not just Puerto Rican cuisine but Hawaiian and local dishes as well.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I knew that my friends and family didn’t fall into the same ‘essential’ category as we did. Without any doubt, Devin and I knew that we needed to step up in an effective way. After numerous phone calls, we were set to serve free keiki meals at a county site (Waiehu Golf Course). We served 250 meals on our first keiki meal drive thru. It was a blessed day. Since that day, we have served over 10,000 free meals to children.
Finalist, Unsung Hero Award
Susan found her calling as a systems advocate for children with disabilities and their families after her son Jason experienced significant disabilities resulting from surgery as an infant. She became a parent volunteer in early 1985 on the new pilot offering information, referrals and parent-to-parent support to families whose children were eligible for early intervention and special education services. The Special Parent Information Network (SPIN) was created from a unique partnership between the Disability and Communication Access Board and the Department of Education, and Susan, as SPIN's longtime coordinator, believes that families are best served when family-school partnerships are valued and preserved.
Kalakaua Middle School Custodian Team
Winner, Health Worker/Advocate Award
School custodians are responsible to maintain a clean facility for the health and safety for our 1026 students and 110 staff. This team provides an essential service for the operations and safety of our school on a daily basis. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the duties and responsibilities of our custodian team adding to the frequency, timeliness and a multitude number of additional CDC requirements. Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting was added to every common duty and task that they do. This added an extreme amount of time, energy and endless exposure to cleaners, sanitizers, gloves and masks. This team took it seriously and delivered with a positive attitude and sense of pride. Their "essential" is elevated. They ease the fear of staff, parents and students by assuring our campus is clean and sanitized and making us feel safe every day requirements.
Kokua Kalihi Valley
Winner, Public Health Award
Together we work toward healing, reconciliation, and the alleviation of suffering in Kalihi Valley by serving communities, families and individuals through strong relationships that honor culture and foster health and harmony.
YMCA of Honolulu
Winner, Family Strengthening Award
The YMCA of Honolulu has been working in Oahu communities for 152 years. With a focus on healthy living, youth development and social responsibility, the Y takes on initiatives based on the needs of our community. This service is broad and deep and only happens in partnering with other organizations and philanthropic efforts to strengthen its outreach and capabilities.
The Y serves keiki, teens, and kūpuna of all faiths, backgrounds and means – each year reaching more than 100,000 individuals and families. All programs are delivered based on the Y’s core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. The YMCA is a fellowship of people helping each other to learn, grow and improve their own lives as well as the lives of others in our community.
Winner, Economic Security/Social Services Award
In July of 2017, Friends of Youth Outreach Hawaiʻi Foundation adopted the trade name Residential Youth Services and Empowerment or RYSE to reflect its readiness to execute the mission. On June 4th, 2018 RYSE opened an access center as part of the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center in Kailua, where disenfranchised youth are able to sleep safely at night under professional supervision. In addition, they receive: skilled medical attention, hot nutritious meals, clean clothes, laundry facilities, hot showers, personal lockers, counseling, job training and employment assistance, GED education, and nurturing by qualified, professional staff.
RYSE operates an access center in the Windward community where Hawaii's street youth, ages 18-24, are assessed and referred to the appropriate support services and have access to a safe temporary living space specifically designed to address their unique needs.
There are few places to go for street youth on Oahu. At a minimum, the RYSE access center offers homeless youth, ages 18-24, respite from the streets. RYSE collaborates with existing youth providers to an assessment and entry into the coordinated entry system (CES) to connect youth seeking services with the most appropriate resources.
Through the Housing First for Youth approach, the key goal is not simply to be independently housed, but to be supported through a successful transition to independence and self sufficiency. This includes housing support, health and well being, access to income and education, social inclusion and community integration.
Winner, Early Learning (Individual) Award
Debbi graduated with a degree in Human Services with emphasis in Early Childhood from University of Hawaiʻi Maui College (formally Maui Community College) in 1991. She taught at private preschools in central Maui for ten years prior to being employed with Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc. (MEO). Debbi began her career with Head Start in June 1996 as the Education / Disability Specialist. She was promoted to Assistant Director in 2001 and to her current position as Early Childhood Services Director in November 2005. Debbi completed the Head Start Johnson & Johnson UCLA Management Fellows Program in 2008. Early Childhood Services programs offered by MEO include Head Start and Kahi Kamaliʻi Infant / Toddler program. Debbi is a board member of the Head Start Association of Hawaiʻi; a board member and Maui representative for the Kiaʻi ka ʻike Director’s Association; and a committee member of the UHMC Early Childhood Advisory Group. She is married and has four children and six grandchildren.
Maui Family Support Services Early Head Start
Winner, Early Learning (Organization) Award
The mission of Maui Family Support Services, Inc. is to promote healthy family functioning by providing supportive services which build on family Strengths. Early Head Start is a no-cost, federally funded program that provides individualized and comprehensive services that can begin during pregnancy and continue until a child is three years old. Services are offered on the island of Maui.
MFSS Early Head Start promotes early childhood and development by using an evidence-based curriculum that promotes healthy development and “school readiness” goals in these areas: Language learning and early literacy skills; Positive approaches to learning and cognitive development; healthy growing bodies and physical movement; positive social and emotional skills and relationships.
Winner, K-12 Teacher Award
Karl Higa is a proud graduate of Noelani Elementary School, Punahou High School, and The University of Arizona. He started off his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher at Pearl City Highlands Elementary 22 years ago, eventually making his way back to his old classroom at Noelani, now as a 5th grade teacher. “The people, culture, and traditions make it the exemplary school that it is, has been, and will continue to be.”
Winner, K-12 Administrator Award
Malaea Wetzel has been a caring Hawaiʻi Public Schools educator for over 25 years. Mrs. Wetzel served as a teacher and Vice Principal at her alma mater, Leilehua High School. In 2009, Mrs. Wetzel was appointed as the Principal of Haleʻiwa Elementary School. In 2014, Haleʻiwa Elementary was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. The following year, Mrs. Wetzel was selected as the 2015 Hawaii National Distinguished Principal for her leadership that sets high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families, and staff in their school community. Haleʻiwa Elementary was also the recipient of a $40,000 Marshall Hung Grant in 2018, which helped to launch the school’s project based learning initiative to engage students in meaningful, real world based learning opportunities.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Wetzel worked with her leadership team to ensure a smooth and safe return to learn transition for Haleʻiwa students. She readily appreciates her faculty and staff for their unwavering commitment to their students. Collaboratively developed by its faculty and staff, Haleʻiwa Elementary’s “essence” statement represents the school’s core values: “Live life to the fullest with honor, respect, kindness and love to make the world a better place”. Above all, Mrs. Wetzel’s goal as principal is to “make the world a better place by growing good human beings, who will do the right thing when nobody’s looking, and when everyone is looking.”