Aloha begins with us

Aloha can be as simple as letting a car merge into your lane — or at least that’s how the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste envisioned it.

Yesterday a room full of community leaders took a step toward Baptiste’s goal of fostering aloha by kicking off a program in his honor.

An entirely volunteer effort, Mea Ho‘omana‘o, which means “reminder,” encourages residents to keep aloha present in their thoughts and actions.

The slogan “Aloha begins with me” is the cornerstone of the campaign, and was passed out on bumper stickers and performed as a song by famed Kaua‘i entertainer Larry Rivera at the reception coinciding with Baptiste’s birthday.

One of the grassroots program’s leaders, county Office of Economic Development Executive Director Beth Tokioka, said the posters, stickers and a CD of aloha-themed songs is just a start.

“We want to see (Mea Ho‘omana‘o) live in any possible way it can,” Tokioka said.

Tokioka recalled how Baptiste began to question the strength of aloha on Kaua‘i in May 2007 after witnessing the community divided on a number of issues.

After protests turned away the Hawaii Superferry from Nawiliwili in late August, Baptiste felt a need for more respectful discussion of divisive issues.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau and a Mea Ho‘omana‘o committee member, said she also detected “an edge” within the community before the Superferry issue came to a head.

As a result, the bureau added questions to its 2007 survey of visitors about their perception of aloha on Kaua‘i. The results reinforced what she and others had been thinking.

The overall rating of aloha was high; however, 60 percent of repeat visitors felt it had changed for the worse since their last trip.

Kanoho said she was able to share the data with Baptiste, and added that aloha is bigger than just the visitor industry.

“It’s about us and our island and the residents of Kaua‘i,” Kanoho said. “It’s about who we are and what we want to preserve.”

By January of this year, a committee of 50 had formed to meet regularly and brainstorm on ways to encourage aloha.

Baptiste died in June, and Mea Ho‘omana‘o was temporarily put on hold. By July the committee had reconvened and has since forged ahead.

The members recognize that restoring a cultural value — or at least finding a way to honor it in a new day and age — is an ongoing process, and one that’s hard to track.

“This is the beginning,” Tokioka said.

On Nov. 18, the committee will host an inter-generational summit to share how young people perceive aloha and how kupuna remember it. The discussion aims to connect past and present by sparking dialogue among high school students, adults and seniors.

The Mea Ho‘omana‘o committee’s monthly meetings are open to new members, and the “Aloha begins with me” logo and slogan are public domain; in fact, Tokioka hopes to see it on company letterhead and business Web sites.

In the meantime, with the state experiencing a weakening tourism industry and slowing economy, Tokioka said there’s no time like the present to show aloha.

“Maybe that’s when it’s most needed, when you least feel like you can give it,” she said.

For more information on the program, call Tokioka at 241-4946.

∫ Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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