For Women Of Distinction, Service First

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - December 02, 2009
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In addition to their Woman of Distinction titles, Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, Judith M. Dawson and Kitty Sullivan Wo are now honorary Girl Scouts

Sisters are really doing it for themselves nowadays.

According to the 2009 study summary Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today, the majority of girls in grades 3-12 around the country today are more likely to make responsible choices and refrain from risky behaviors than their counterparts 20 years ago. The study also found that youths feel less pressure to fit in and are less afraid to speak their minds.

But what is perhaps most interesting is the finding that youths today are demonstrating a strong sense of civic engagement, with a whopping 79 percent of the 3,263 girls polled expressing a desire to volunteer in their communities.

“One of the things we want the girls to understand is the importance of giving back to your community,” says Gail Mukaihata Hannemann, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Hawaii.

Since its formation in 1912, the Girl Scouts of the USA has been committed to the development of girl leadership. The Girl Scouts of Hawaii was organized five years later through Florence Lowe, a school-teacher from Kamehameha School for Girls, and Queen Lili’uokalani.

As the group prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, it also is renewing that commitment to build courage, confidence and character in young women, while updating its teachings for the 21st century.


Next Wednesday night, four exemplary examples of female leadership will be honored at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom during the 2009 Woman of Distinction awards dinner. This year’s honorees are Judith M. Dawson, president of the Atherton Family Foundation; Irene Hirano Inouye, trustee with The Ford Foundation and trustee/past chair of The Kresge Foundation; Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, partner and executive vice president of Kobayashi Group LLC and a founding member of The GIFT Foundation of Hawaii; and Kitty Sullivan Wo, owner and director of Sullivan Family of Companies.

“The Woman of Distinction award is to recognize women who are great role models and contribute to their communities,” Hannemann says. “This year we have four great honorees, and we have selected them for their work in our communities and, in particular, their work through their foundations.”

Through their respective philanthropic efforts with charitable organizations both locally and nationally, they have laid the foundations for change upon which young women can build. And, according to Hannemann, their interest in community service began at an early age.

“When you hear their stories, (volunteering) started very young, and for all of these women it was something they did as a family and it’s a value they’ve passed on,” she says. “The dinner is set up so that girls can see that story, learn that story and hopefully be inspired by that story.”

Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO Gail Hannemann visits Woman of Distinction honoree Irene Hirano Inouye in Washington, D.C.

Here, a closer look at each Woman of Distinction:

Judith M. Dawson has been on the board of the Atherton Family Foundation for nearly 35 years, but her history with the grant-making private resource goes back to 1915 when her great-great-grandmother, Juliette Cooke Atherton, transferred 20 percent of the outstanding shares of Atherton Estate to her three children in trust to perpetuate the charitable works she had initiated.

“We don’t focus on any particular area of giving,” says Dawson of the foundation’s goals. “We are very supportive of education and social services, arts and culture ... I mean really, just about everything. We try to be more general rather than specific, thinking that some help for more nonprofits is better.”

Her decisive hand also reaches to the boards of Punahou School and Honolulu Academy of Arts.

She attributes her penchant for helping others to her grandmother, Juliette Atherton Guard.

“I was close to her, and from an early age I sort of seemed to be aware of what she was doing,” Dawson says. “She also served on the Atherton board, and I remember her always going to meetings, but so happily going off to be able to do, as she said, ‘good works.’”

She notes that the never-ending support of the trustees who donated to Punahou inspired her to do more “good works.”

“They would just do anything they possibly could to help,” Dawson says. “I think Hawaii has an incredible tradition of generosity and helping. Whether it’s simply being a volunteer or giving money, it’s amazing to be around so many fabulous people.”

Though her husband is well-known as Hawaii’s senior U.S. senator, Irene Hirano Inouye isn’t easily upstaged. In fact, she is a highly recognizable face in the world of charitable workings.

Her long list of titles includes president of the U.S.-Japan Council, president and chief executive of the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, chairwoman of the Audit Committee and of the American Association of Museums, and trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the California Japanese American Leadership Council, Little Tokyo Community Council and the LA Inc. Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But for her Woman of Distinction honor, Inouye is nominated for her position as a trustee for both The Ford Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, of which she is a past chairwoman.

“I am working toward social justice worldwide, something I believe in strongly,” says Inouye of her work with the Ford and Kresge foundations, of which she has been a part for four and six years, respectively.

“It’s inspiring for me to do good worldwide, to support mankind.”

And womankind. Though never a Girl Scout herself, Inouye and a group of her friends founded a girls’service club while students at Gardena High School.

“I have believed it is very important to find ways to encourage girls to see themselves as active citizens and contribute to their local communities,” Inouye says. “If we can instill in young people the importance of contributing - that there is so much more beyond one’s own immediate needs - I think that’s a very important gift to give to our children.”

Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, Judith M. Dawson and Kitty Sullivan Wo leaf through the pages of several Girl Scouting books

She also found opportunities to contribute to the greater good in projects with her church, something her parents felt strongly that Inouye and her younger sisters Linda and Patti do.

“They felt it was important we contribute, which I think guided my decision to work in the not-for-profit sector, an area where I felt I could make a difference.”

Alana Kobayashi Pakkala is a Woman of Distinction for her executive vice president role with the development firm Kobayashi Group LLC. She also is an honoree for her work in founding The GIFT Foundation of Hawaii, a nonprofit dedicated to support and empower charitable groups in the Hawaii community.

Pakkala was part of the original group of young movers and shakers who founded The GIFT Foundation of Hawaii eight years ago. Each year since they have thrown one big party in October for their adopted beneficiaries, startup nonprofits Pakkala says don’t normally get gala events thrown for them.

“We’re primarily focused on children, education and the environment,” Pakkala says, adding that at the end of the night, all the money raised from ticket sales goes directly to supporting the causes.

She also is devoted to the Kapiolani Health Foundation, which supports Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children as well as Pali Momi, fitting as the new mom says she grew up in a tight-knit family that gave her the motivation to follow her passions.

“I’ve watched both of my parents always be involved with community service on some level,” Pakkala says of parents Bert and Susan Kobayashi. “I think I’ve just grown up watching that and just assumed that’s part of what you do.”

With the birth of daughter Sophia six months ago, Pakkala is looking forward to instilling the family tradition in a new generation.

“I find that (working with nonprofits) is something that’s very balancing and helps me find some sort of balance between career and giving back,” she says. “I actually find that you have a lot of fun and you deepen friendships. It’s fun work.”

As owner and executive director of the Sullivan Family of Companies, Kitty Sullivan Wo oversees a group of businesses that operate in more than 150 locations in 12 states.

In addition to her day job, Wo has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits for more than 20 years. She is currently on the boards of Punahou School and the Contemporary Art Museum, and chairs the regents for Chaminade University and is vice chairwoman of Hawaii Rotary Youth Foundation.

“Each serves a different purpose, and they all do good things for the community,” says Wo, who believes being involved with a diverse lineup of causes is a Catch-22 many people face when dipping their toes into the philanthropic pool.

“I think maybe the challenge for some young people might be kind of where to begin, because they are aware there are so many nonprofits just in our Hawaii community, not to mention the nation and the world,” she says. “They’re really just beginning to discover themselves and who they are, so in some ways it’s a lot to ask a young person to really think about what’s most important to them. But I think they have to just (decide on) starting somewhere.”

For Wo, that inspiration to do good stemmed from the works of her family.

“My parents and grandparents were wonderful role models, and I learned from their example at a young age that it’s something that you do,” Wo says. “I remember talking to my father (Foodland founder Maurice “Sully” Sullivan) when I was 9 or 10 or so and asking him what was the purpose of our being here, and what should we be doing. And he told me that we were here to make the world a better place, and so that’s what I’ve tried to do.

“It’s very gratifying, and I think we can all do something to make a difference.”

That includes making a difference for the Girl Scouts who will be in attendance at the Woman of Distinction dinner Nov. 9. In addition to honoring Dawson, Inouye, Pakkala and Wo, the gala event works as a fundraiser for scouting.

“I was never a Girl Scout growing up,” Wo says, “but when I had my three daughters (Maurisa, Liza and Emma), it was an opportunity for me to experience Girl Scouting. I was a troop leader and I got to do all the wonderful things Girl Scouts do.

“I think that through scouting girls are able to set goals and learn to take responsibility and be prepared. I know that for my daughters it has really helped them become leaders and gain confidence in their own abilities.”

Adds Dawson, “I think there are so many opportunities for both young girls and boys now to volunteer. Whether it’s involvement that evolves from Girl Scouts or whether it’s just something you do through school, there are so many ways to volunteer beginning very young. And those opportunities allow you to observe other people, other adults, who might well become role models.”

Tickets to attend Foundation for Change, the 2009 Woman of Distinction dinner, are still available. Funds raised from the sale of tickets and through the silent auction will support the Girl Scouts of Hawaii. For prices and purchasing information, contact Kristi Cardoso at 675-5516 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

To learn more about the Girl Scouts of Hawaii, visit

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