Hawaii's Remarkable Women: philanthropist Carole Kai Onouye
Iwilei, HAWAII -
Honolulu resident Carole Kai Onouye is a singer-turned-philanthropist. She has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the less fortunate in Hawaii. But she humbly says she considers it her duty to give back to the community. That's why she is one of KITV4's Remarkable Women.
This little girl would grow up to become a major figure in Hawaii's nonprofit community. Onouye credits her mother, Ethel Shimizu, for teaching her there is no greater good than serving others. "My mother always told me you have to give back to society," remembers Onouye.
First, Onouye gave the gift of her voice. She sang and performed in Waikiki, Las Vegas and around the world. "Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia; it was fun," reminisces Onouye.
She still found ways to fit in generosity alongside the glamour. For instance, on her days off in Hong Kong, "we used to visit orphanages and my heart just broke. I thought, I've got to do stuff to help people," Onouye recalls.
That's why she started The Carole Kai International Bed Race in 1974. In 20 years, The Bed Race raised over $ 1.5 million for the Variety School, which educates students with learning differences.
The race at Kapiolani Park literally had people on beds with wheels. More people would push the bed around. Onouye describes the high energy. "We had 100 beds and you multiply that by eight people and the crowd, me performing, going around, 'Can you donate five cents?'"
In 1985, wanting to help even more people, she co-founded the Great Aloha Run with Dr. Jack Scaff. She also opened Carole Kai Charities, the nonprofit group that gives out the money.
Onouye, the president of Carole Kai Charities, remarks on the success of that fundraiser. "2020 will be our 36th year and hundreds of thousands of people have run it," she beams proudly.
So far, The Great Aloha Run has given over $14 million to more than 150 organizations in Hawaii. The United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawaii is one of them.
Step into the Iwilei offices of Carole Kai Charities, and the room is full of awards and commendations like these, but she doesn't do it for the community service. She does it because she can touch people's lives.
"When I know we're doing something for others to help them get better or thrive, or have a bit of joy, that really makes me happy," Onouye explains, eyes watering and voice cracking at the thought of it.
The lyrics of the Great Aloha Run theme song say it all. Onouye sings, "You can make a difference with love for everyone."
KITV4's Remarkable Woman Carole Kai Onouye spends her days doing just that.