July 24, 2019

Giving back through volunteering: Part 1

After retiring from their jobs on Oahu, Debbie Wheeler and her husband, Alan Calhoun, moved out to Lanai for a more serene lifestyle away from the crowds and hustle of Honolulu. Although the pace on Lanai is slower, they both manage to stay very active in the community and have found many ways to give back to the place they now call home.

Before moving to Lanai, Wheeler and Calhoun spent several months on Maui caring for Calhoun’s mother. Through that process, Wheeler says she became more aware of the issues kupuna face living independently. She also became familiar with the different care programs available to Maui County residents, including Na Hoaloha, a community-driven volunteer organization dedicated to providing care to seniors and helping those with disabilities live independently.

When Wheeler met a Na Hoaloha representative at a Lanai community health fair, she jumped at the opportunity to get involved and help kupuna in similar situations as her mother-in-law was. Na Hoaloha works around volunteers’ schedules to find opportunities that support their interests and talents. Wheeler goes on “friendly visits,” which consist of regular stopovers to the houses of four different ladies. During these visits, Wheeler usually goes walking or shopping with them.

More than a hobby

For Wheeler, volunteering is more than just passing time and staying busy. She really believes in the causes she is involved with and is grateful for the relationships she has developed through volunteering.

“One of the ladies I walk with seems to have more positive energy. She is more like a family member to me and waits for me every week. It is so important to keep moving as we get older and I enjoy giving these ladies encouragement. I also get to make new friends.”

A timely opportunity

In addition to volunteering for Na Hoaloha, Wheeler is one of four American Red Cross volunteers on Lanai. During natural disasters, Red Cross members may be called upon to open shelters or assist those affected in other ways. Volunteers also help with ongoing community programs such as the smoke detector installation program.

Wheeler emphasized the need for more community members to get certified, especially since this hurricane season is predicted to be busier than normal.

Above all, Wheeler says that people should volunteer for things they enjoy doing. “It’s such a wonderful community to maintain. Organizations are able to provide opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to provide with the help of volunteers.”

An Active Couple

Calhoun, like Wheeler, got involved in different environmental and community projects upon retirement. He said the work of others on Lanai inspired him to stay active. “There are so many people out here in the community who give back. People like Albert Morita, Mary Lou Kaukeano and Shelly Barfield are everywhere. They are my inspirations,” Calhoun said.

R & R: Rest and Restoration

Calhoun regularly volunteers for the Lanai Limu Restoration Project, working with organizer Cheryl Kaiaokamalie and others to help on the farm and attend community workdays.

After meeting Kaiaokamalie’s father, the late Allen Kaiaokamalie, Calhoun said he was motivated to get involved in the project. “The whole concept of what he was trying to do is very special, especially on this island. That is what drew me to working with them,” explained Calhoun.

One rewarding experience he had as a volunteer was meeting limu practitioners from other islands to talk story and share experiences a few years ago. “It was really exciting to meet other people involved in fishponds and limu restoration projects across the state,” said Calhoun.

Sharing Resources

Calhoun also spends time volunteering with the Lanai Community Closet, where he serves as the head janitor. The Lanai Community Closet draws from the idea of the “sharing economy” by loaning out durable medical equipment (DME) such as crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, and hospital beds to residents in need. Calhoun says it’s a small room, but he enjoys helping to organize it and is happy it helps people avoid costly medical equipment purchases.

“Our kids and grandkids are away so we like to keep busy and give back to this special place,” said Calhoun.

To learn more about volunteering alongside Wheeler and Calhoun, visit the American Red Cross Hawaii website, the Na Hoaloha website, or the Lanai Limu Restoration Project’s Facebook Page. For inquiries about the Lanai Community Closet, contact the public health nurse at 565-7114.

(This series will highlight volunteer opportunities on Lanai and feature residents who contribute to the island’s vibrant community.)

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