YWCA bestows Na Wahine Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i Awards

The YWCA of Kaua‘i is honoring exceptional women leaders at its Na Wahine Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i award luncheon.

This year’s honorees are Gina Kaulukukui, Ellen Ching and Carla Thomas. The event to recognizes their contributions and achievements will be held 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 31 in the Jasmine Ballroom of Kaua‘i Beach Resort.

The Na Wahine Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i award is designed to reflect the strong leadership roles that women have held to improve the quality of life for all people throughout the history of Hawai‘i.

Carla F. (Capilla) Thomas is the director of Human Resources for Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort & Spa. She was nominated by Doug Sears.

“She is a true community leader giving endlessly of her time,” Sears said. “While she often volunteers with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Waipa Foundation, she is also involved in our Corporate community giving program.”

Born in 1943, Thomas was raised in the Waiahole Valley as the oldest of nine children on a dairy farm. Her American-born father was John Capilla, and her birth mother was born and raised on O‘ahu. Her stepmother Anita Capilla migrated from Spain.

Thomas left home in 1962 to join the U.S. Air Force and traveled the world. She completed a double Master’s degree and taught elementary school, worked in accounting and training and human resources for hotels, the Singer Education systems and Job Corps.

She said her true passion is Hyatt, where she has worked at eight hotels in the corporate office, operations, and human resources. She sits on four trust funds and is a past president and board member of Hawai‘i State SHRM (Society of Human Resource Managers).

Thomas is vice president of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, and the HR Chair and Board member of Kaua‘i United Way. She is a member of the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i’s Protocol Committee.

Sears said Thomas plays a behind-the-scenes role on projects and volunteers. “She works at higher organizational levels, behind the scenes, bringing about change and assistance for many,” he said.

After raising three children, Thomas enjoys growing orchids and learning and living her Hawaiian culture.

Gina Kaulukukui is the executive director of Life’s Bridges Hawai‘i. She was nominated by Sue Kanoho.

Kaulukukui handle daily operations, program development and community education for Life’s Bridges, including the immediate support group Bridges Emergency Support Team.

BEST partners with the Kaua‘i Police Department, Fire Department, Civil Defense and the Visitor’s Bureau.

“One of hardest things in life is notifying family members that a loved one has passed away and the emotional aftermath that follows that tragedy,” Kanoho said. “Kaua’i is fortunate to have a person that has been at the forefront for those very challenging moments time and time again for our residents and visitors.”

Kaulukukui came to Hawai‘i at age 5, following the sudden and unexpected suicide of her father. She has first-hand knowledge for the value of meaningful support.

For the past 25 years, Kaulukukui has dedicated her life to providing comprehensive, compassionate bereavement care to local community and visitors.

As a full-time Domestic Violence Interventions Coordinator at the Kaua‘i Police Department, Kaulukukui is the liaison for victims, law enforcement, prosecution, judiciary, the YWCA and other agencies.  

With firsthand experience of the affects of suicide in families and community, Kaulukukui was instrumental in creating the first Neighbor Island Prevent Suicide Task Force and chairs the Kaua‘i group in partnership with the State Task Force.

Together they raise awareness and education about suicide prevention and intervention.

Kaulukukui is also a member of the Domestic Violence Task Force, the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, the Child Death Review Board and Council, the Trauma Advisory Council. She is a current member and past Chair of the State Prevent Suicide Hawai‘i Task Force and Chair of the Sexual Assault Prevention Community Action Team.

Ellen Ching is the Neighbor Island Development Officer for Easter Seals Hawai‘i. She was nominated by Kaua‘i County Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura.

“Because my work is about the well-being of the entire community,  it is made much easier when there are nonprofit leaders who perform their kuleana with excellence,” Yukimura said.

“It gives me great relief and assurance to know there is a person like her who is competent and caring and focused on building a system of support for those who are challenged.

As a woman and a leader, Yukimura said Ching has been an inspiration. She was born and raised in Lihu‘e, graduated from Kaua‘i High School in 1974, and went on to attend the University of Oregon, Alliance Francais in Paris, and The University of Waseda in Tokyo.

With a passion for helping people, Ching began her lifelong commitment to assist individuals with developmental disabilities to achieve their best possible life in 1983 with The Arc of Kaua‘i.

The organization had financial difficulties, and within six months Ching’s leadership moved her up to executive director. The annual operating budget grew from $50,000 to $2.4 million with $3.5 million in assets in 2009.

The Arc grew from two full-time and four part-time staff, to more than 50 employees and six unique services. Working in partnership with other agencies Ching helped to initiate adoption of landmark legislation for individuals with developmental disabilities and making Hawai‘i the first State with “Self-determination” principles legislation.

The Arc and Easter Seals Hawai‘i would merge with her staff identified for superior services to people with special needs. Ching is currently responsible for development efforts on Kaua‘i, Maui and Hawai‘i.

“I’ve been deeply impressed by what she has accomplished on Kaua‘i, by her unwavering commitment to, and compassion for, her clients and their families, and by her vision of a society that embraces all people,” Yukimura said.

Ching and spouse Michael Belles have a 22-year marriage and enjoy traveling and enjoying diverse cultures. She currently holds board positions on the Hawai‘i Waiver Providers Association.

Individual tickets are $50 or sponsor a Malama table of 10 for $500. RSVP by May 25 to Mindy at 245-5959 or mindy@ywcakauai.org. Visit online at www.ywcakauai.org/NaWahine.aspx.

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