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Maui Students Get a Helping Hand

By Anthony SanFilippo
May 2017

Flip Flops

Wishing Well for Maui Students

When Sarah Sorenson first arrived on the Hawaiian island Maui, she was a tourist. She was awestruck at the beauty of it. So much so that she decided to move there and make it her home.

But it wasn’t until she settled in to her new Hawaiian digs and became a REALTOR® that she realized just how much people struggled in Maui.

And not just on an individual basis, but systematically as well.

Sorenson noticed quite quickly that schools are chronically underfunded because they don’t get their operating revenue from property taxes, as is the case in most states.

In order to fill that gap, Sorenson created a program during her time as President of the REALTOR® Association of Maui (RAM) to help Maui schools and teachers provide the tools necessary for kids on the island to get a better education and be successful.

Sorenson created Wishing Well for Maui Students, a volunteer program that procured essentials and other educational needs for classrooms for the 35 public and charter schools located on Maui.

“I enlisted the help of ‘coordinators’ (at each school) who are volunteers and we went to the teachers and asked them to make a wish list,” Sorenson said. “Each year, as more and more teachers hear about us and get their wishes filled, [the program] has grown.”

Has it ever.

From Flip Flops to Air Conditioning Units

In its decade of existence, Wishing Well has provided $1.5 million in supplies, furniture and other necessities helping more than 23,000 students.

“Sarah is a powerhouse,” said Terry Tolman, Chief Staff Executive for RAM. “Every time I talk about it I get more amazed by it because it shows how people can make difference. No one can do everything but everyone can do something and little bits matter.”

Tolman said a perfect example was Sorenson calling him from a local K-Mart on a recent afternoon.

“She was all excited because K-Mart was having a Blue Light Special on flip flops, selling them for $1 each,” Tolman said. “She bought hundreds of pairs. I went by with my truck filled it and a half of a second truck and brought them all to her house – which is our de facto storage area.”

She was all excited because K-Mart was having a Blue Light Special on flip flops... She bought hundreds of pairs.Click To Tweet

Sorenson thought that since so many kids came to school in flip flops – which is very commonplace in Hawaii, that it would be a great idea to have spares in every school in case a kid broke his flip flop while walking around.

Rather than be sent home because they don’t have shoes, Sorenson thought having a supply of new pairs available for the kids so they could simply replace the broken shoe and stay in school.

“It’s not like everyone on Maui is homeless or poor,” Tolman said. “But financially times are tough – so little things like that make a big difference.”

And although a large percentage of the efforts have focused on supplies like pencils, erasers, crayons, notebooks and the like, there have been other necessities that have made the learning environment more comfortable.

With Hawaii’s climate being so warm, very often, schools that are in old buildings and without air conditioning have to close because of the heat. Wishing Well… went out and got fans for many classrooms to keep the kids cool during the warmer times of the day.

Some classrooms even got window unit air conditioners. And for those schools that need portable classrooms because of space issues, Sorenson was able to get an electrician to donate the wiring to help keep those classrooms temperature controlled and operable.

“We had a teacher request a bar stool for her classroom so she could sit next to a child who is in a wheelchair,” Sorenson said. “We got it and the teacher was so grateful.”

National Recognition

The work Wishing Well‘s great deed has not gone unnoticed.

REALTOR® Magazine named her as one of five recipients of the 2016 Good Neighbor Award winner for all of her commitment to the program.

And, when the National Association of REALTORS® held their annual President’s Circle Conference for the REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC) at the Grand Wailea on Maui in March, attendees brought 133 backpacks stuffed with $18,000 in school supplies to donate to the Wishing Well program. An additional $2,700 in cash and gift cards were also donated at the conference.

It was the first time members of the RPAC had reached out to donate to a nonprofit organization.

The Wishing Well program accepts donations year-round. People looking to donate any new or gently used household or office items or who would like to purchase school supplies for the program or who would like more information about the program or to make a PayPal donation can visit www.ILoveMauiSchools.com.

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