NAPILI - The Napili Kai Beach Resort opened in 1961 on Napili Bay. At the time, the 12-room guesthouse was situated on one acre of remote beachfront property. It was an adventure just to drive there; visitors traveled ten miles north from historic Lahaina Town on an old dirt road.
The employees were all neighbors; and, on the weekends, they would serenade the guests by bringing their families, ukuleles, guitars and children to dance hula, kanikapila style.
In 1966, with insight, owners Jack and Margaret Millar, along with their daughter, Dorothy, formed the Napili Kai Foundation; and, 50 years later, the legacy of those first intimate years can be experienced today.
The Napili Kai Beach Resort opened in 1961. Resort guests traveled on an old dirt road ten miles north of historic Lahaina Town. The employees were all neighbors who treated the guests like family. On the weekends, the employees would serenade the guests by bringing their families, ukuleles, guitars and children to dance hula.
The non-profit's mission is "to perpetuate the cultural legacy of Hawaii through the children of Maui."
Keiki, ages six through 18, are given the opportunity to learn and share the dances, language, history and arts and crafts of Polynesia.
The program is open to the children of resort employees and Maui families.
Trained by kumu hula, they perform weekly, every Tuesday night at the resort's Aloha Pavilion; it's the longest-running weekly children's hula show in the State of Hawaii.
The foundation program not only offers instruction free of charge, but also provides off-island cultural experiences through a travel troupe and higher education scholarships to its graduates,
Management of the foundation has evolved over the years and today includes a synergistic mix of current and retired staff members and hotel shareholders and owners, including: Louise Ross, president; Janice Studwell, vice president; Shelley Hee, treasurer; Yvette Laborte, secretary; Directors Chuck Barnum, Feliza Duque, Eileen Hillson, Glenn Kamaka and Nohealani Ralar; K. Holoaumoku Ralar, kumu hula and manager; and Kumu Kalei Jaramillo, Rance Villarimo and Phyllis Ross.
Lou Ross has been the president of the West Side nonprofit for the past 30 years.
"Since the year 2000, over $150,000 has been awarded in scholarships. We didn't have scholarships from the beginning," Ross told the Lahaina News. "This is something that started in 1986 when Jack Millar was near death. The shareholders of Napili Kai wanted to do something to memorialize and honor him, so they started the J.C. Millar Memorial Scholarship Fund."
Scholarships come from many quarters, among them The Perna-Rose Foundation for Hope, The Stubblefield Scholarship Fund and The Dennis Wilkinson Memorial Scholarship.
"These scholarships have sent many of our keiki to prestigious local and Mainland colleges," Ross added with pride.
With $20,000 in scholarships awarded in 2016, the numbers keep growing.
"Now," Ross advised, "we have over a million altogether with our Endowment Fund, scholarships and so forth.
"We're still trying to grow it, so that we don't have to do fundraisers and to pay for the musicians and the instructors and so forth. If we have enough money there, we're self-sufficient. We can use the proceeds every year.
"The achievement of reaching 50 years knowing that the foundation is on solid ground and able to continue for another 50, hopefully, is significant."
She recognized "the shareholders of the Napili Kai Beach Resort as our biggest supporters."
Vice President Studwell is a shareholder, part-time Maui resident and has served on the board since 2006.
Beyond the bottom line, she said, "The foundation's mission to perpetuate the cultural legacy of Hawaii through its children is the very essence of the aloha spirit. Our keiki learn all aspects of their rich heritage and the importance of preserving and sharing that heritage with future generations. It is our responsibility to help them achieve that goal."
"Passing the torch" from one generation to the next is part of the foundation's kuleana.
With a third generation keiki in the program, foundation alumna, director and past scholarship winner Nohealani Ralar values the importance of her position.
"Each year is a success, just as important as every show throughout the year, and like any positive influence in life (Napili Kai Foundation 50th Anniversary) should be recognized. It helps us share the news and honor those who have made this a part of their lives, past, present and the hope of future generations.
"To perpetuate the cultural legacy of Hawaii through the children of Maui another 50 years," she said.
The weeklong 50th Anniversary celebration at Napili Kai Beach Resort commences April 25 and runs through April 30.
For more information, visit napilikaifoundation.org or #napilikai50.