2022 Honorees

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. Our panel of nearly 20 community judges chose these winners and honorable mentions from dozens of public submissions.

Winner: Brennan Yamaguchi
Honorable mentions: Makani and Brianna Kema-Kaleiwahea; Sarah "Mili" Milianta-Laffin; Ian Ross; Paul Tonnessen, Friends of the Children's Justice Center of Maui

Winner: Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi
Honorable mentions: Joann Farnsworth, Sharlene Wong

Family-Friendly Employer
Winner: Maui Family Support Services, Inc.
Honorable mention: AHL

Unsung Hero
Winner: Nā Pua Noʻeau, UH Mānoa
Honorable mentions: 
Valerie Aguirre; Kasey Kawaguchi; Irene Papaconstadopoulos, MD; Julie Smith; Project Hawaiʻi, Inc.; YWCA of Hawaiʻi Island Developmental Preschool

Celebrate all the honorees!

Join us for HCAN's annual fundraiser and awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, from 5:30–8:30 pm, at the Royal Hawaiian. 

All funds raised from the event are going directly to support Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network and our work to ensure all keiki are healthy, safe, and ready to learn. Sponsorships are also available.


About the honorees

Brennan Yamaguchi
Winner, Advocate Award

As a student not afflicted with seizure inducing conditions it was my goal to help create an environment where the community especially kids would have access to first aid for seizures. Seizures can happen to anyone not just those with Epilepsy, but also from falls and fevers. I want to push for a safe environment for all Hawaiʻi's kids and their families.

For the last 5 years Brennan has advocated to teach others awareness about Epilepsy and seizures both for the safety of his friends with the condition but also so others learn about seizures and can help someone having one. He did this through involving his baseball teams in awareness games, lemonade stands, and speaking to his classes/grade. His biggest endeavour was to co-write a bill alongside Senator Glenn Wakai for seizure first aid placards to be placed in all Hawaiʻi businesses. The undertaking was 2 years with COVID halting the process in 2020 but finally passing in later 2021.

Makani and Brianna Kema-Kaleiwahea
Honorable Mention, Advocate Award

Bio coming soon.

Sarah "Mili" Milianta-Laffin
Honorable Mention, Advocate Award

Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin is a proud public school educator who teaches STE(A)M Lab at ‘Ilima Intermediate School in Ewa Beach. Since 2019, she's been working with her students to help pass a bill at the Hawaiʻi State Legislature to end period poverty in our public schools. She proudly serves as the Hawai‘i Society for Technology in Education (HSTE) Communications Chair, and on the TFA Hawaiʻi Alumni Advisory Board as the PRISM Co-Chair supporting LGBTQIA+ teachers and students. She works on the GLSEN Hawaiʻi Advisory Board as the Public Policy Coordinator, making sure that LGBTQIA+ students are considered in all levels of policy. She’s an active member of the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association (HSTA), currently serving on HSTA’s State Board of Directors. In March 2021, Mili was one of 4 teachers recognized nationally by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden for the 2021 Women’s History Month Celebration based on her work supporting LGBTQIA+ youth, Menstrual Equity, and WiFi on Wheels.

She’s 1 of 45 national educators to receive the prestigious 2022 California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence. She was awarded the 2021 STACY Award from HSTA, and the 2020 Pono Award from HSTA for social justice work in and out of the classroom. She's the faculty sponsor of the ‘Rainbow Royales’ Gender Sexuality Alliance Club (GSA) that won GLSEN’s 2020 GSA of the Year, out of 8,000 national clubs. She’s a 2x State Finalist for the distinguished Presidential Award for Excellence in Math & Science Teaching (PAEMST), the nation's highest commendation for K-12 Math and Science teachers (2019 & 2021). On the weekends you can find her snorkeling around O’ahu trying to spot manō.

Ian Ross
Honorable Mention, Advocate Award

Ian Ross is a Hawaii-born and raised organizer and proud graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a B.A. in Economics. He developed a passion for public service early on when he founded the Youth Advisory Committee to Mayor Bernard Carvalho and spearheaded a successful campaign to establish the Kaulana Bus Pass, a Kauaʻi Community College Student ID bus pass system, which to this day continues to dramatically improve bus ridership among students and remove barriers for students attending college. His interest in the economic futures of young people inspired him to join the executive board of RYSE, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating a youth access center and shelter services. While on the Executive Board, he worked with Executive Director Carla Houser and legislators to introduce and pass HB282 in 2021 which finally allowed shelters to allow unaccompanied homeless minors to stay the night in shelters. Today he works in the Hawaii State Senate and serves as Chair of the Makiki/Lower Punchbowl/Tantalus Neighborhood Board.

Paul Tonnessen
Honorable Mention, Advocate Award

Paul Tonnessen is Executive Director of Friends of the Children's Justice Center of Maui, Inc.

Paul as been involved working with and for non-profits since the 80’s and his passion has and always will be reaching out to those in need. After moving to Maui in 2001, Paul was asked to join the Board of the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center. Having been subjected to violence and abuse as a child, he was more than happy to say yes. Little did Paul know at that time that he would be joining one of the best Boards on Maui, and one that would change his life.

Paul volunteered for years with the Boston St. Francis Homeless Shelter’s STEP program helping to transition homeless people into housing, recovery programs and employment - even employing some of them himself. Upon selling his business in Boston he was fortunate enough to be able to travel around the U.S. being instrumental in putting on major AIDS walks, a half marathon for Police Officers killed in the line of duty in Boston, among many other events. He also worked with Maui Aids as their event coordinator and played a key role for all the logistics and donations to put together a five island bike ride that helped raise much needed funds to assist the people infected and affected by AIDS here on the Islands. Paul believes that all the knowledge and experience that he has gained can only be an asset to the Friends in his new position.

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When Paul had to temporally leave Maui due to having to care for an ill relative on the mainland, the first thing he did was join a Board (Olive Crest) whose mission was pretty much the same as the Friends.

Upon Paul's return to Maui in 2008, and while working in the retail jewelry arena, he was honored when asked to rejoin the Friends Board. In September of 2012 he applied for and was hired for the position of Executive Director which was the perfect opportunity for him to continue to reach out to children in need in Maui County. Paul is a firm believer that in life you need to give to be able to receive. Paul shares about the two previous Executive Directors "Rosemary Blair built us the foundation, Randy Echito built the home and now I have the privilege to build on the addition as the agency continues to grow. I am looking forward to carrying on the amazing legacy Rosemary and Randy has created and continue to place the safety and welfare of the children of Maui County as my first priority", said Tonnessen.

Paul previously sat on the Board of Directors for Maui Nonprofit Directors Association, Maui Family Support Services, Maui Hui Malama, Hawaiʻi Alliance of Nonprofits (HANO), Maui Pride and the Hawaiʻi Children's Trust Fund. Paul currently is a core member of Ho'oikaika Partnership and sits on the boards of Maui Equality Coalition, Hawaiʻi Gift Planning Committee and as an advisor to Family Court through their Ku Like group which focuses on the healing aspect of our youth caught up in the juvenile justice system with behavioral challenges due to the trauma they have been exposed to. Prevention is a major part of Paul's and the Friends mission and Paul’s constant focus on intervention gives Paul and the Friends the opportunity to holistically, compassionately and empathetically address these behaviors so that they are less likely to become substance abusers or caught up in the judiciary systems as adults.

Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi
Winner, Innovator Award

Ma'i Movement Hawai'i is a local grassroots organization founded in October 2020 by sisters, Nikki-Ann Yee, Brandy-Lee Yee, and Jamie-Lee Kapana, to directly address the issue of period poverty across the state. Their mission is to provide and distribute free menstrual products to menstruators in need and advocate for systemic change in the government, schools, and community to end period poverty in Hawaiʻi. They believe that all individuals of menstruation age in Hawaiʻi have the right to access menstrual products and education without financial burden, shame, or stigma.

Ma'i Movement Hawai'i carries out their mission through three main programs - service, advocacy, and education. Since their inception, they have sent out nearly 300,000 period products to individuals and 60+ organizations on all islands except for Kaho'olawe. They've worked with organizations ranging from schools and community clinics to correctional facilities and housing agencies. Ma'i Movement Hawai'i seeks to improve access by also offering education around menstruation and sustainable period management that is both gender inclusive and locally inspired. In May 2021, Ma'i Movement Hawai'i worked with the Hawai'i State Commission on the Status of Women to get proclamations issued by Gov. David Ige and all county mayors about period poverty in Hawai'i. Then, in November, they co-authored the first government report on period poverty and menstruation in Hawai'i with the Commission. This year, they are advocating to pass the bill to make period products free in all public and charter schools at the legislature after conducting a statewide pilot in six schools that revealed the extent of period poverty in Hawai'i schools.

Pictured: Founders Brandy-Lee Yee and Nikki-Ann Yee.

Joann Farnsworth
Honorable Mention, Innovator Award

The majority of my professional life has been in Hawaiʻi, living for twenty-five years on Hawaiʻi Island and then in recent years moving to Oahu for both my work and family. Prior to that I lived and worked in California as a small business owner, a graduate student in business and beginning my life work in maternal and child health with Planned Parenthood in San Francisco. Congresswoman Patsy Mink was a dear friend and colleague of my boss at Planned Parenthood, meeting her many times made it that much easier to move to Hawaiʻi knowing of her commitment to the health of women and girls. I bring to this work over 40 years of experience as a CEO of not for profit organizations, program leadership for foundations and organizational consulting serving clients in the foundation and not for profit sector. My efforts have focused on improving the lives of the women and children of Hawaiʻi. My personal mission in life is to help every child be safe, wanted and thrive.

On Hawaiʻi Island for over fifteen years I was the Executive Director of Family Support Services, first in Hilo then in Kona, a private non-profit with the mission of family strengthening, child and adolescent development, and child abuse prevention. My work took me to Oahu in 2001 where my focus shifted from direct service work to community development and early childhood public policy working with foundations, advocacy organizations and the Governor’s Office. First as a consultant and then as staff I provided the Office with the design and beginning implementation of a statewide comprehensive planning process to meet the legislative mandate of the Office to define desired outcomes for children and families and the critical strategies that will need to accomplish them, the Early Childhood Action Strategy (ECAS). This work is carried on as the governmental-nongovernmental collaborative effort of ECAS.

I joined The Hawaiʻi Association for Infant Mental Health (AIMH HI) as it was founded in 2008 as an all-volunteer effort. In those early years we worked to train colleagues in the early childhood field on the critical importance of early brain development, attachment, and bonding. As the field of early childhood mental health grew in recognition so did AIMH HI. I am honored now to be its President, be IMH-E®endorsed and be able to hire our first Executive Director and staff and advise on the first statewide Integrated Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health plan.

Sharlene Wong
Honorable Mention, Innovator Award

Sharlene Wong, SNS, is currently the Program Administrator for the Hawaiʻi Child Nutrition Programs. This office is responsible for fiscal auditing and providing training and technical assistance to statewide Nutrition Programs for the United States Department of Agriculture. Born, raised and educated in Hawaiʻi with a degree from Yale University, she recognized the important connection between good nutrition with academic excellence. With over 32 years in school nutrition experience in Connecticut, she passionately promoted innovative concepts like school garden, integrating food cultivation activities into the classroom curriculums and salad bars, and purchasing from local farmers as far back as 1990. One of her school gardens was featured in a USDA Let’s Move article. She has long been an advocate for providing good nutrition for keiki and supporting local farmers. Her love for of travel has taken her to many countries, like Cuba, Morocco, Spain, and China, where she visited school nutrition programs and shared information about American school nutrition. After moving back to Hawaiʻi in 2018, she continues to advocate for good nutrition for keiki and promote the use of local farm products in all meals.

Maui Family Support Services, Inc
Winner, Family-Friendly Employer Award

MFSS is a private, non-profit agency incorporated in 1980 to provide early childhood development services to families in Maui. The agency has provided over 40 years of continuous service to children and families of Maui County. MFSS’s mission is to promote healthy family functioning by providing supportive services that build on family strengths.  The prime directive is to utilize our collective resources toward the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The agency serves the islands of Maui, Lanaʻi, and Molokaʻi. Please visit www.mfss.org for additional information about the agency.

Honorable Mention, Family-Friendly Employer Award

AHL is a multi-disciplinary architectural firm with experience in architecture, historic architecture, planning, existing building services, interior design, and sustainable design. Based in Downtown Honolulu, AHL is one of the largest architectural firms in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Region. Our staff of 96 includes 30 registered architects and 29 LEED Accredited Professionals. We are well equipped with cutting-edge technology that efficiently and effectively supports the hands-on experience of our award-winning design teams.

Their family policies include 100% coverage of health insurance for families; full or partially paid leave for birth or adoption for both men and women; flexible hours for family or school events, doctor visits, etc.; telecommuting options; lactation area; and families invited to corporate events. Meetings and staff events are limited to work hours only; flexible spending accounts are available, and children are welcome in the office if needed. AHL also has a 1% initiative that donates 1,000 hours annually to a nonprofit. The majority of the program, participated in by staff, has been directed at schools and nonprofit community programs that benefit keiki and families – ranging from its first project, the renovation of the Salvation Army’s Family Treatment Center in Manoa to its most recent, Ho’ola Na Pua, a healing home for young girls who have been sexually trafficked.

Nā Pua Noʻeau, UH Mānoa
Winner, Unsung Hero Award

Nā Pua Noʻeau (NPN) is a University of Hawaiʻi program since 1989, and was founded by Dr. David Kekaulike Sing out of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Nā Pua Noʻeau carries forth the firm belief that all Native Hawaiian children have inherited gifts to reach their potential.  In 1993, Nā Pua Noʻeau opened its Center at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.  In 2018 Nā Pua Noʻeau UH Mānoa became a program under UH Mānoa Native Hawaiian Student Services (NHSS), a division within Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge.  With NPN UH Mānoa added to the ʻohana, NHSS is the only office throughout all of UH’s campuses to provide support programs from PreK-Kupuna.  Throughout the year,  NPN UH Mānoa provides enrichment programs grounded in Hawaiian culture and language as the foundation for keiki of all ages. With family engagement, college preparedness and summer enrichment opportunities, it is hoped students will be inspired to pursue their post high school and career pathway aspirations.

Pictured: Lisa Ann Letoto-Ohata, Program Coordinator, and Kinohi Gomes, Program Director.

Valerie Aguirre
Honorable Mention, Unsung Hero Award

Valerie Aguirre has been serving students and their families in Maui County through the Department of Education for the past 15 years. Previously, she worked as an educational assistant helping students with severe emotional and behavioral challenges. In her current role as the McKinney Vento Liaison (MVA) she oversees schools in the Canoe Complex which covers Hana-Lahaina-Lanai-Molokai, she helps identify students in unstable housing, including unaccompanied youth, and connects them to community resources to remove barriers in education and to foster academic success. Since starting this position in December 2020 she has increased the number of MVA identified students from 60 to 124. She was able to accomplish this through frequent and continual outreach to increase school and community awareness of available resources.

Valerie partners with various organizations including: The Maʻi Movement to bring much needed sustainable and disposable feminine products to young girls; Kumulani Chapel to deliver hot meals and gifts to families for the holidays; the Purposity app where she coordinates donations for families in need and The Hoʻoikaika Partnership where she establishes working relationships with other community agencies to better serve families. She works closely with Department of Education Social Worker on attendance issues and in locating unsheltered families; attends the weekly Paia outreach with the Maui Police Department-Mobile Medical Educational Unit as well as The Maui Rescue Mission in Lahaina to connect with more unsheltered families; and co-hosts a beginning of the school year backpack and school supplies drive.

Valerie was born and raised on Maui and resides in Kahului with her husband Malcolm. They have four children Kekoa, Kaiulani, Kaimana and Kalena.

Kasey Kawaguchi
Honorable Mention, Unsung Hero Award

I've been working at Palama Settlement since 2018, teaching after school computer education classes and working at their alternative learning center. I'm from Oahu, I grew up in Kaneohe and graduated from Damien Memorial School. I started to major in psychology and sociology, but realized I was more interested in fine arts and digital arts and switched majors to computer sciences and graphic design. After graduation I struggled to find a job in graphic design and there was an opening to teach coding at Palama Settlement and took it. Then I started working at their alternative learning center for troubled youth and realized how much I enjoyed teaching. It wasn't the plan, but I can honestly say I really love my job. With the closing of the alternative learning center our department has more than tripled the classes we offer with adding animation, coding in Scratch, coding in Unity, graphic design, LEGO WE DO, and LEGO SPIKE robotics. I am really humbled and honored to be even considered for this award because I feel so lucky to be even given the opportunity to teach.

Irene Papaconstadopoulos, MD
Honorable Mention, Unsung Hero Award

Irene Papaconstadopoulos, MD is a Board Certified Pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

With a Medical Degree from the University of Athens, Greece in 2008, she completed her residency training in Pediatrics at St. Sophia Childrens’ Hospital of the University of Athens, Greece with additional training at the Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia, PA. She completed a second residency at the Unterberg Childrens’ Hospital, an affiliate of Drexel University in New Jersey. Prior to Medical School, she graduated summa cum laude with a B.Sc. in Sports Science and Physical Education from the University of Athens.

In addition to working as a Pediatrician in Europe, she has held positions such as lecturer for the University of Athens, Team doctor for the Olympic Synchronized Swimming Team of Greece, Doctor for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and Pediatrician/Scientific associate for the Department of Allergy and Asthma of the 1st Department of Pediatrics, University of Athens.

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Irene is a former World-class synchronized swimmer and coach. She was a member of the Greek National Team in synchronized swimming competing in both team and duet events and has placed in the top 5 in European Swimming Championships and finals in World Championships prior to her decision to become a Pediatrician.

In 2018, seeing the need for Pediatricians, she moved to Maui with her husband and 2 sons. Since 2018 she has been a practicing Pediatrician, in private practice, as a hospitalist for Maui Memorial Medical Center, and as a Clinical Instructor for John A. Burns School Of Medicine. In 2020 she co-founded CH.A.M.PS Pediatrics (Child and Adolescent Maui Physicians) in Maui, with the goal of providing a brand new clinic exclusively for children, for all insurances, private, and quest.

Julie Smith
Honorable Mention, Unsung Hero Award

Julie Smith is Founder and Director of Camp Pilialoha `O Maui, Head Womens Chaplain at Maui Community Correctional Center, Business Owner and CFO (Pool Pro, Inc) Julie has served in various youth community programs for over 35 years such as Kihei Little League, Age Group Swimming.

Camp Pilialoha `O Maui holds a very special place in Julie's heart serving the youth of the incarcerated. Humbled and honored to be recognized for loving those who need someone to believe in them. 

Julie lives in Maui and is Married, Mother of (7), Grandmother of (20)

Project Hawaiʻi, Inc.
Honorable Mention, Unsung Hero Award

Project Hawai'i Inc. is an award-winning volunteer staffed non-profit organization that has been supporting the needs of our island's homeless children since 2003.

We were established to be completely staffed by volunteers to create the community involvement to make change. We have over 200 volunteers across the 3 islands to help provide year round support to over 1,600 homeless children.

We continue to be solely supported by public donations, family foundations, and community partnerships to run all our programs. 100% of all YOUR donations are utilized to provide the stability for each child as they continue through our programs on their road to success. Feel the love of saving a homeless child today and become part of the Project Hawai'i 'ohana!

Pictured: Cliff Kama, Sr. and Magin Patrick.

YWCA of Hawaiʻi Island Developmental Preschool
Honorable Mention, Unsung Hero Award

Our nationally accredited NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) preschool serves Hawaiʻi Island 2 to 5-year old children with a developmental curriculum focused on creativity, social skills and kindergarten preparation. We provide 50 weeks of school with limited breaks for working families. Our preschool provides all students with a USDA approved nutritious breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack. We believe in working with the whole child; social- emotional, cognitive, physical and creative self.

YWCA of Hawaiʻi Island's Mission is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.