LAHAINA - West Maui is blessed with the spirit of aloha, with a number of businesses that open up their hearts and wallets to help the less-fortunate whenever asked. Maui Jim Sunglasses ranks among the best on that stellar go-to list.
What fundraising event hasn't asked for or received a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses from the now-international company founded over 30 years ago in Lahaina?
Their track record of island contributions is huge; last year, donations to local non-profits topped $260,000.
Walter Hester (second from right) presents a $20,000 donation to Women Helping Women Executive Director Stacey Moniz (right).
CEO Walter Hester is passionate about his commitment to give back.
"We are a company that got its start on the beaches of Maui. Even though it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, there are many people who need help and support," he said.
"This is our way of helping to take care of the community," Hester continued, "that has taken such good care of us through the years."
Hester leads by example, and his employees gladly follow suit.
The Maui headquarters are in the heart of Lahaina on Wainee Street.
Ruth Belden has worked for Hester for over 16 years, first as his executive assistant. Now, in addition to these responsibilities, she is aptly "in charge of" the firm's Aloha Department.
Belden described the company's philosophy, "to live the Aloha Spirit, pattern our operations like the Hawaiian culture."
And they truly walk the talk.
Hale Makua Health Services has been one of the beneficiaries of this practice.
According to Director of Development and Marketing Denise Thayer, "Maui Jim has been an avid supporter of Hale Makua Health Services since 2002, and its contributions total nearly half a million dollars." (This excludes Hester's personal contributions.)
Last year, the check was written for $150,000.
Thayer cited the importance of Maui Jim's ongoing donations and Hester's former participation as a trustee of the Hale Makua Foundation over a decade ago.
"In addition to supporting expansion and improvements that have helped the organization to meet the growing and changing healthcare needs and demands of Maui's frail seniors and disabled individuals, Maui Jim's gifts have helped change the organization's culture by creating well-being for those we serve," she explained.
Specifically, Thayer added, "By supporting the organization's Eden Alternative initiative, Maui Jim has helped transform our long-term care communities that in year's past were typically built and run like hospitals, into homelike environments that strive to ensure that residents do not suffer from loneliness, helplessness and boredom."
Imua Family Services was gifted $50,000 in 2013. Executive Director Dean Wong "was astounded and overwhelmed by the generous giving of Mr. Walter Hester and Maui Jim for their generous holiday giving of $50,000 to our organization this holiday season. Investment in our children and their families is crucial for our society, as today's children are tomorrow's citizens, workforce, leaders and parents."
Women Helping Women (WHW) was another recipient of the Maui Jim Aloha Spirit.
At a ceremony held at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua last year, WHW received a $20,000 donation.
"The donation was made through the coordination of Renee Ward of Reflecting You Interiors. Ward is a staunch supporter of Women Helping Women and an active member of the West Maui Domestic Violence Task Force," WHW Executive Director Stacey Moniz explained.
"This donation," Moniz added, "ensures that women, children and families who are fleeing domestic violence in Maui County can receive the support and services they need."
If it's true that "what comes around goes around," Maui Jim is a shining example.
Thayer is a firm believer.
"Walter Hester has built his business on investing in the things that matter - creating an outstanding quality product, delivering stellar customer service, believing in your team and remembering your roots."
Belden agreed wholeheartedly.
"Maui Jim is a keeper. Integrity, loyal, values of trust, honesty; and, above all else, the owner truly cares about the employees. When things get bad, he is there to support you. I don't know too many CEOs who will do this. My hat's off to Walter for his leadership and his example of how we should treat one another," she concluded.