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StarBulletin.com

Setting the pace


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POSTED: Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tofi Mika Jr. has a fairly busy schedule, working as an office manager for the Mayor's Office of Culture and the Arts and attending graduate classes at Hawaii Pacific University.

But when Mika heard about a disabled friend and veteran who needed a wheelchair-accessible house, he started a fundraising effort that led to the “;Walk Across Oahu”; in November.

Through the 135-mile charity walk from Yokohama Bay to Foster Village, Mika was able to raise not only financial support, but also awareness about what disabled veterans face when returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“;He's a city employee, a full-time student, and he's doing all these wonderful things,”; said city neighborhood assistant Mary Chanel-Benjamin, who nominated Mika for the 10 Who Made a Difference award.

Chanel-Benjamin said she thought Mika's fundraising effort was remarkable.

Mika, 30, who emigrated from American Samoa, grew up in public housing projects, including Kuhio Park Terrace and Kalihi Valley Homes, where he was a friend of Sualauvi “;Malua”; Tuimalealiifano.

Tuimalealiifano, a sergeant first class in the airborne 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, was fighting off a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in 2007 when he was thrown from an armored vehicle and was paralyzed.

Tuimalealiifano re-enlisted in the Army and took on the new mission of being a counselor to returning disabled and wounded veterans.

Because of his disability, Tuimalealiifano has in the past showered in a makeshift structure built of plywood outside his home in Kapolei and required the assistance of two people.

To renovate his house to be accessible, he needed $178,000.

Unable to find a place for a benefit concert at a reasonable price, Mika started a charity walk across the island and developed an informational ssite called WalkAcrossOahu.com — his first Web site.

He enlisted the support of fellow walkers Yvette Lee and John M. Cummings III and delivered speeches at veterans meetings and at his classes at HPU.

He also e-mailed state legislators and U.S. Congress members, as well as the news media, publicizing the event and building support for it.

The walk was inspirational, with people spontaneously offering food and drink and thanking the walkers for their support.

The Walk Across Oahu raised $13,000 to help Tuimalealiifano, the Oahu Veterans Center and Disabled Americans Veterans Tripler, and also inspired Watts Constructors to renovate Tuimalealiifano's home for free.

The walk was not the first time Mika has volunteered to do a humanitarian act of kindness.

He worked last year as a volunteer helping orphans in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on a good-will mission and this year helped build a new vocational training center for at-risk youths in Baguio City, Philippines.

On New Year's Day he plans to be in Phnom Penh once again to work with orphaned children.