LIHUE — When Kalena Numazawa-Pacanas received a $500 scholarship from the Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce on April 21, she cried.
When the Waimea High School senior received an unexpected $685 check Monday night from people she never met, you guessed it — more tears of joy.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said as she wiped away tears.
Chamber board members applauded and cheered in a joy-filled general meeting that highlighted the generosity of a complete stranger from the mainland.
“I’ve never been given anything,” said Numazawa-Pacanas, who plans to attend Kauai Community College and study business. “I’ve worked since I started high school and, having this, hearing about this, is like a blessing.”
The story starts with The Garden Island’s coverage of the chamber’s luncheon at the Kauai Beach Resort when it presented 13 scholarships. An emotional Numazawa-Pacanas broke down as she spoke of holding two jobs and the sacrifices her parents made for her.
“So being a recipient is so amazing, it is kind of unreal for me,” she said in the story published on the front page.
Chamber President Laurie Yoshida said everyone was moved.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” she said.
Even across an ocean, thousands miles of away, Numazawa-Pacanas melted hearts with her words.
Darlene Arakaki Azar of Edwardsville, Illinois, read that story by TGI’s Ryan Collins and was touched by Numazawa-Pacanas’ commitment, and wrote that she knows “how much a college education can change your life.”
“I knew I wanted to help you,” she wrote in a letter. “Enclosed is $685 from myself and six friends to help you towards school tuition and books. I hope this helps ease the burden of worrying about paying for school.”
Arakaki Azar lives aloha. She was born on the island of Hawaii. Her father joined the Army after graduating from high school. Her parents met in St. Louis, were married, and had three children.
Arakaki Azar went to night school for almost 15 years while working full time to earn her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree in human resources management. She worked for the Department of Defense for 35 years and retired four years ago.
She and her husband moved to Princeville and lived there about two and a half years. They loved island life, but returned to Illinois about a year ago to be near family.
Last October, Arakaki Azar heard a song with the basic message of “we need to quit blaming others about not doing something, that it is up to us to do something.”
So she did.
“I have been very active in the community here and started a ‘Do Something’ campaign where a group of my friends have been helping a very poor elementary school,” she wrote.
To date, they have donated more than 10,000 food items, 1,000 clothing items, $1,250 worth of STEM lab items and $600 worth of headphones for the computer labs.
Her efforts were noticed.
Arakaki Azar was recently awarded the Illinois Governor’s Award for Volunteerism.
“My idea was to see areas where we could help to make a difference,” she wrote.
She and her friends made a big difference to Numazawa-Pacanas, who wasn’t quite clear on why she was initially asked to attend the Filipino chamber’s general meeting Monday.
She was told, over a static-filled cell phone call while she watched a friend’s baseball game, someone on the mainland had read TGI’s coverage of the scholarship luncheon and wanted to help her.
Please be at the meeting, Cyndi Ayonon told her.
When Numazawa-Pacanas was handed the $685 check, she couldn’t stop smiling and, at the same time, crying.
The money means she can quit her second job and costs to attend KCC are pretty well taken care of. And, more than anything, she was overwhelmed that people she didn’t even know believed in her.
“It’s kind of like a ‘wow’ moment, that I actually impacted somebody that great,” she said.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.