Generation Gift

The GIFT Foundation, a group of young professionals with a social conscience, throw a party to raise funds for worthy causes

Sarah Pacheco
Friday - October 03, 2008
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GIFT Foundation board members, from left, Jason Nishikawa, BJ Kobayashi, Jeff Arce, Stephanie Pietsch Gambetta, Nate Smith, Alana Pakkala, Dawn Dunbar and Kenwei Chong

A group of successful young professionals is throwing the party of the year to raise funds for Hawaii nonprofits, and displaying their own style of leadership

“People today are still living off the table scraps of the ‘60s. They are still being passed around, the music and the ideas.”-Bob Dylan

As one of the premier voices of rock, Dylan knew what he was talking about when he said that the radical ideas and musical movements that defined the 1960s are still held up as defining pinnacles of our culture.

Those old enough to participate in the sit-ins, the bra-burnings and the original Woodstock ran with those scraps and reworked the recipe for American (apple) pie, for better or for worse.

But as Baby Boomers move steadily toward retirement age - the irony of the Free Speech Movement’s slogan, “Never trust anyone over 30”! - children born in the 1970s, ‘80s and even ‘90s are stepping up and taking the lead.

Oh, yes, the times, they are a-changin’. Take the group of young professionals collectively known as the GIFT Foundation of Hawaii. While there are 22 board members from a variety of different industries and backgrounds, one thing they all have in common is their active stance in community development.

Well, two things if you count that the average age of the board is just 35.

Among them are recognizable names, and they’re going all out for the sixth year in a row with the GIFT Foundation’s annual fundraising party from 8 p.m. to midnight Oct. 24 at Pipeline Cafe. This year’s theme is Rock Stars & Groupies, and the bash will feature an extravagant costume contest and prizes that include a Vegas giveaway. (In previous years, winners have been whisked straight from the party to the airport and flown out to Sin City that night.)

Plus there’s an open bar, a heavy spread of pupus, entertainment from Cowling Band, and a very “sexy,” not-your-mother’s live auction.

Here’s the backstage access on what makes this all-star group tick.

“The thought process was could we create a nonprofit that young people would be attracted to and want to become a part of,” says co-founder BJ Kobayashi. “We thought it’d be a good opportunity for people to socialize with people of their own age in similar professions and in similar points of their lives, and also to give back, most importantly.”

If the name sounds familiar, Kobayashi is president and CEO of the Kobayashi Group, a real estate development firm responsible for some of Hawaii’s most recent notable projects, including the condominium towers Hokua and Capitol Place.

Other board members include Peter Ho, president of Bank of Hawaii; Brad Nicolai, general manager of Audi of Hawaii; John McManus, a managing partner with real estate development firm Bay West Equities; Alana Kobayashi of Kobayashi Group; Molly Watanabe, co-founder of SMART Magazine; Kenwei Chong, owner of E&O Trading; Greg Dickhens of Kyo-ya; Stephanie Pietsch Gambetta of Wahoo’s, and Dawn Dunbar of American Savings Bank.

“We all have young children and we are committed to lead by example and contribute to our communities,” says Dunbar. “GIFT stands for ‘Giving Inspiration for Tomorrow,’ and our vision is to promote philanthropic giving among our peers, a younger generation that is interested in getting involved with iys communities and giving back.”

Board member and real estate manager Nate Smith echoes this sentiment:“When we started, the goals were pretty small. It was focused not just on the philanthropic side, on the getting people to be involved more, but also to seed these small nonprofits.”

Modeled after the original GIFT Foundation established in Boston, GIFT Foundation of Hawaii is one of the first charitable organizations in Honolulu run by young professionals striving to promote giving and volunteering by their peers as well as providing an outlet where people can learn about and contribute to Honolulu’s various charitable organizations.

Smith explains that board members proactively look for future members each year. Those most often recruited are young professionals (read Gen-Xers) more concerned with contributing to a cause than to their image or pocketbooks.

“I think what we’re especially proud of is that all of the board members really are active and they do something,” Smith says. “It’s not a type of group where you just come to a few meetings, miss a bunch of meetings and don’t do anything. Every single board member does contribute, either raising money or planning the event or marketing or procuring prizes for the event.

“We’ve had volunteers come in thinking it’s this big party that gets thrown for us, but they find out that the board really does throw the party.”

So how, in an economy where both big businesses and nonprofits are floundering, are the vision and support of GIFT Foundation members still so solid?

“There’s something that lets us still generate interest among the community,” Dunbar explains.“They see something very valuable in this next generation com-


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