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Lāhainā’s unbreakable community spirit

OR: HOW GREG BURNS BECAME HTA LĀHAINĀ'S SANTA

A chance encounter at the checkout led to a truly special Lāhainā (and HTA!) moment. This is our Grade 4 & 5 teacher, Ms. Aure, and Greg Burns. Read on!

It is one of HTA’s goals to build a strong ‘ohana around our school community. This is true across all our campuses and programs, but perhaps none more so than at our new Lāhainā campus. In the wake of the wildfires, HTA staff worked tirelessly to open this campus for elementary and middle school students and families — many of whom had lost everything.

A strong community has grown up there. Students have been able to spend a semester learning and getting back to just being kids. They treat each other with compassion and care, families pitch in to help, and the community continues to offer its support. The Door of Faith Church offered its facilities for the new campus. Maui Music Mission, which lost everything in the fires, has visited to bring students the joy of music. And the holiday season has provided even more heart-warming instances of beautiful support.

Keoni Ball treated every middle school student to a small gift and a pizza lunch. He is neither a Learning Coach nor a staff member — he’s actually the president of the Realtors Association of Maui — but he just wanted to lend his support.

At the elementary school, teachers, Learning Coaches, and community members pitched in for a silent auction that was held at their recent student showcase. Greg VanderLaan of UFO Parasail contributed items for the auction, along with donating $1,000.

It was in organizing the raffle that our Grade 4 and 5 teacher, Ms. Aure, had yet another touching encounter. In her words, this is what happened:

“After losing everything in the fire and receiving so much help from strangers and loved ones alike, I knew organizing this raffle would be the one way I could pay it forward and make a difference. I contacted many local businesses and spent the weekend making crafts. But then I realized that I didn’t have anything for our keiki, so I headed over to Ross to buy some presents for the raffle.

My babies, boyfriend, and I filled our cart and made our way to the checkout. It was a combined shopping mission because we were also buying things for our house, so we stopped to separate it into two carts before we got to the register. I was trying to explain to my 4-year-old son why we needed to do that, and a gentleman in the line overheard me and asked if I was buying the presents myself. He said so many kind things about how amazing and special that was. I thanked him and headed up to pay. Then, when we were unloading the cart, he went up to the auntie at the register, gave her his credit card, and offered to pay for all of the toys.

As I was thanking him, I shared that I was a teacher at HTA’s new Lāhainā campus. I was so surprised to learn that he was a former HTA Learning Coach! His son attended grade 8 at our Kīhei campus. I still can’t believe that we were so lucky to be in the same place at the same time.

I wanted to reach out to Greg afterward, and on looking him up, I discovered that he also lost so much in the fire. I truly believe that that makes his kindness and donation to our keiki even more special. Despite his loss, he continued to give and support our keiki and our schools and that is remarkable.

The raffle raised almost $700 — most of that from the toys. I just talked to my students on Zoom, and they hoped that we could use the money to make our new school campus feel like home. They discussed getting more sports equipment, art supplies, books, and so much more.

And, in the process, they started talking about all of the things they wanted to donate to our campus. It was really beautiful and special and it shows that kindness truly is the gift that just keeps giving and how kind and thoughtful our students are! We decided that the funds will go to support our Lāhainā campus and, if we have extra, we will find a place in Lāhainā to donate to.”

Middle school students enjoy a pizza lunch and gifts — all donated by Keoni Ball, president of the Realtors Association of Maui. Happy holidays!