LIHUE — Richard Gontarek doesn’t consider himself a social butterfly by any stretch of the imagination, but he wants to give back to Kauai for welcoming him with open arms.
On a recent trip here, Gontarek stopped by Kanuikapono Public Charter School in Anahola to instruct kids on Polynesian-inspired bone carving. But the 51-year-old never expected the response he received from the school’s students.
“Usually, I keep to myself. I go to a beach and carve by myself, but this was such a great group of kids,” he said. “I was really moved by the reception I got from them.”
Inspired, Gontarek decided to start carving with the intent to sell his art, rather than just give them away like he has done for the past seven years. He intends to donate 100 percent of the funds raised until Labor Day weekend in September, donating a minimum of $2,500 to the school.
“Even if I have to take money out of my own pocket, I will. This is what I want to do,” he said. “Even the kids who weren’t particularly interested, they were still respectful and curious. It just goes to see how different the culture is there, what’s taught by teachers and parents. It’s a great thing and I want to show my appreciation by doing something nice.”
A resident of New York, where he works in a hospital, Gontarek visits Kauai often to get away his everyday life.
“I don’t really enjoy a lot of places. I’m not really a people person,” he said. “But I got to Kauai and was comfortable. I have more friends there than I have here. It’s a place that I feel at ease. I get a lot of vacation time and make a good living. They (hospital) encourage you to get away every couple of months because it’s a stressful environment.”
Carving, which Gontarek said keeps him grounded and calm, is his outlet. He’s given away over 250 pieces of hand-carved bones as gifts, and each carving is special.
“You’re really giving a gift of your time when you’re doing something like this,” he said. “I’d like them to be appreciated and giving them as a gift is important to me, knowing that they’re finding a good home almost.”
Gontarek isn’t sanctioned by the school to carve art pieces and sell it to raise money. In fact, he hasn’t even told KPCS about the project.
“It’s just that I want to do it. It’s nice to finally be in a position to do something where I can help,” he said.
So far, Gontarek has raised about $1,100 since July 4 to donate to KPCS.
As for what happens if Gontarek receives more than $2,500 from his artwork, Gontarek has an idea.
“I joked with one of my friends that if I make over $2,500, I’ll give the $2,500 to the school and find somebody who owns a shave ice truck and have them park it outside the school for the day to give the students free shave ice,” he said.