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Tuesday, April 18, 2000

American Airlines
flies in to help
Texas halau

The carrier has made
arrangements to get the
dancers and families here

Donations welcome

By Suzanne Tswei


Halau Ho'oulu Mana'o Hawaii will be able to come home after all.

The halau, despite having had nearly $9,000 stolen from its travel funds by one of its dancers, will be the first hula halau from Texas to compete in the Merrie Monarch competition.

American Airlines yesterday offered seats to the dancers, their families and supporters to ensure their passage to the Big Island for the April 27-28 competition, said kumu hula Keli'i Chang. The group numbers more than 50 people and will be flying to Hawaii from Texas, the East Coast and California, he said.

"Our biggest worry was getting to Oahu. I knew I had to get everybody there. That's first. Once we get to Oahu, we can figure out how to get to the Big Island somehow," Chang said.

After planning for nearly a year for the halau's first appearance at the competition, Chang learned Thursday evening that he and his 35 dancers did not have the plane tickets to Hawaii.

One of the woman dancers, entrusted by the halau to make the travel arrangements, told him that a Honolulu travel agency had disappeared with the money. But upon further questioning and his insisting on seeing receipts for the money, she confessed that she had spent almost $9,000 to pay her own bills, Chang said.

Despite the loss, the halau, whose members are largely from Hawaii, is determined to compete in the hula competition, Chang said. The theft affects about 11 dancers and family members, he said.

Chang recovered uncashed checks totaling about $16,000, which will go toward the purchase of plane tickets. He also demanded that the woman return the stolen money by the end of this week.

Yesterday, American Airlines officials in Dallas agreed to help the group, Chang said. "They took care of everything. They routed everything for us, even our flights from Oahu to the Big Island. We didn't have to worry about any of it. We can finally come home."

American Airlines also offered the seats at the discounted rates that the halau had planned on back in February, Chang said. However, the halau still is short of funds to pay for the trip because of the stolen money.

"We will accept any donations. Even though we got the tickets at a lower fare, we still have to pay. The money that was stolen is gone," Chang said.

So far, news of the halau's money trouble has brought out many offers of support from other hula halau in Texas, he said. The phone also was "ringing off the hook" all day yesterday at his parents' Kamehameha Height's home.

"People I haven't heard from in years were calling me, asking me if they can help my son. There have been tons of people calling. I am so grateful," said Chang's mother, Moana, who is an entertainer at the Kodak Hula Show and Aloha Boat Days.

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Donations welcome

Kumu hula Keli'i Chang is accepting donations to his halau through his mother in Honolulu.
Make checks out to: Frank Chang III, which is Chang's birth name.
Mail them to: c/o Moana Chang, 1546 Hanai Loop, Honolulu, HI 96817.

E-mail to City Desk

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