LAHAINA - Leadership is a talent; it's a skill; it's an inside job.
For West Side native son, 33-year-old Matthew Erickson, it's a path; and the graduate of Lahainaluna High School (Class of '96) is walking the talk.
His grassroots philosophy is a way of life.
"It doesn't only take a village to raise a child; it takes a village to keep your village going," he told the Lahaina News in a recent interview.
Erickson is the adopted son of James and Evelyn Erickson of Napili. He is of Hawaiian and Japanese descent.
He is a graduate of the Napili Kai Foundation, Lahainaluna Academy of Travel and Tourism (now Academy of Hospitality and Tourism) and Western International University, where in 2007 he earned an Associate of Arts degree in Business.
He has worked for Napili Kai Beach Resort, Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, Feast at Lele and 'Ulalena. He is currently the reservations sales manager at Old Lahaina Luau and the executive deputy director of the Lahainaluna High School Foundation.
Art Fillazar has been the student activities coordinator at Lahainaluna High School since 1987 and has watched Erickson evolve.
"Matt has made good use of his high school experience. He is our next generation of island leaders who performs well for the betterment of the community. He is unselfish and humble and has always done his work for the good of the people to whom he serves," Fillazar said.
Television personality, reporter and producer Julie Yoneyama is a fellow Old Lahaina Luau (OLL) employee. The dancer-entertainer has worked with Erickson over the years.
"I hired Matt when I was managing the Feast at Lele in 2000. He was a reservationist," she said.
"He had changed so much since Feast. I never knew he had such knowledge of Hawaiian culture and how dedicated he has become in the community."
Erickson credits the Lahaina Hawaiian Civic Club with his enlightenment.
"Just so happened that Aunty Kathy Ralar (his kumu hula at Napili Kai Foundation), who was at the time the president of Lahaina Hawaiian Civic Club, invited me to lunch to tell me about the group and asked me to become a member. I did. At that point, soon after joining the club, we went to our first (Hawaiian Civic Clubs) convention, and my eyes just opened to the world. Pretty much from that point, I became a member of all these boards," he explained.
He attributed Lori Sablas, the director of Po'okela at Kaanapali Beach Hotel, as his mentor.
"I was under her wing she was helping to shape me when I would go out and visit the different concierge and midlevel managers. At the time, she was a member of the board at Friends of Moku'ula, and she actually had put the invite out to me (to join the board). That then became another 'aha moment' for me. Wow, those nonprofit organizations throughout each community do so much to help enrich it. I kind of dug in and what I feel started becoming a more active participant in the community," he said.
"I know Matt from knowing his parents, so that's since childhood," Sablas said.
"Later, I got to know him better as an adult from his volunteering with Na Mele O Maui, Hula O Na Keiki and as a fellow board member of the Friends of Moku'ula. I've enjoyed watching Matt grow professionally and am a very proud 'Aunty' of our homegrown Lahaina boy," she added.
His lifelong friend and colleague, Daryl Fujiwara, summarized Erickson's impressive volunteer record.
"Throughout his career he has been active in the community as president of the Lahaina Hawaiian Civic Club, treasurer of the Friends of Moku'ula, secretary of Na Mele O Maui and serves on the advisory board of the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism... He has also been the co-chair of the Na Kamehameha Commemorative Pa'u Parade and Ho'olaule'a. In his spare time, he is a student of Halau Ke'alaokamaile," Fujiwara said.
Shirley Kaha'i, executive director of Friends of Moku'ula, worked for four years with Erickson when he was treasurer. She was heartfelt in her description of Erickson.
"He participated in many cultural activities in the community and was especially proud of his heritage. His involvement in the culture was always reflected in everything he did," she said.
"Matt has always remained ha'aha'a (humble) in all of the dealings within the community. He volunteered his services in a quiet manner and just wanted to get the job done," Kaha'i commented.
Prior to his engagement as contract executive deputy director of the Lahainaluna High School Foundation, Erickson served on the board with its president, Rob Shelton.
Shelton speaks highly of Erickson's character.
"Matthew is intelligent, articulate and compassionate. He makes people feel very comfortable, and he is a terrific example of what the aloha spirit is all about. In one word, I would say he is very PONO," Shelton commented.
"It is so great to see our younger generation step up into leadership roles like Matt has done. He is a great example for his generation and will prompt others to serve the community."
In 2011, he was named an Alumni Honoree by the National Academy Foundation based on his career success following graduation from the Academy of Hospitality & Tourism program.
Fillazar is enthusiastic about Erickson's accomplishments: "Lahainaluna is proud of Matt Erickson. He remains active and visible in the community. He is a role model for many of our young aspirants. He is a servant leader who seeks only the best with no personal gains.
"I am proud of Matt," Fillazar continued. "I am proud to know that what he experienced in high school have been stepping stones to his success. Imua Matt!"