Jessica Lani Rich, a longtime volunteer with the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, has been named executive director.

Aloha Society director
counters ill effects

Jessica Lani Rich

» Has been appointed president and executive director of Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, having served in an interim capacity.
» She formerly has served as chairwoman of the organization, which helps visitors who are victimized by crime or encounter tragedy during their trip. She also is public service director for KUMU and KPOI radio stations.
» The Visitor Aloha Society was started by the Honolulu Rotary in 1995. It became a private, nonprofit organization in 1997, and is primarily funded by the state Hawaii Tourism Authority.
» The organization's budget is growing to $270,000. The tourism authority is contributing $124,000 this year and plans to raise that to $145,000 next year.

The society handled a little more than 2,000 cases last year?

Yes. Many are referred by the Honolulu Police Department or the hospitals, if someone comes to Hawaii and they get sick. A visitor went for a morning jog, came back to the room, told his wife he wasn't feeling well. She left the room and when she came back, he was dead on the floor. That happened this morning. We have a lot of cases involving Japanese tourists, such as the visitor whose hair was set on fire by a local boy. For one thing, I met with her. I personally handled her case. She was one of the sweetest girls I've ever met. She didn't deserve it. Nobody deserves that. She was so grateful for that, because we were able to get her hair washed. VASH was able to pay to get her hair washed every day. One of my main goals is to get the word out. I don't want to be Honolulu's big secret. I want people to know what we are. And that's my goal one year from now. I don't want people to say "what do we do?"; I want people to say "what can we do to help?"

Are you advertising?

In 2005 we will be doing a public service campaign. We want people to make more donations to the Visitors Aloha Society. We would like people to volunteer. We would like people to be aware of us. And also we would like people to be kinder to our visitors, if they see a visitor who needs help or they see a visitor go in the ocean and leave everything there on the beach. We call our volunteers "ambassadors of aloha." The training involves three hours with HPD, Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle's office and also with our chairman -- a clinical psychologist -- and myself. And after the three hours of training, they get certificates. We have about 45 volunteers, active or inactive. Ideally I'd like to get it up to 100.

What are some of the more unusual cases?

What a lot of people don't realize is we handle so many cases. We handle people who are victims of crime, day-to-day things. I dealt with a woman last week whose daughter got really sick. They didn't realize this for a number of years, but she had diabetes. We assisted the mother and daughter and fortunately they got better and we sent them home. We're seeing a lot of people on the cruise ships who come over here and get sick. Another case that I just dealt with three weeks ago, an elderly gent on Maui fell in the hotel room and was medevaced to Straub, where he was diagnosed with being quadriplegic. The family had to come out here. In this case, they had money. They chartered a plane to send this visitor home and it cost them $30,000. And then we see cases, the microcosm of society. We see everything. Young people in their 20s or 30s thinking they can sleep on the beach. Then we get a call about the girls sleeping on the beach. We put them up in a youth hostel. They get kicked out of one youth hostel because they were too rowdy. Then they were threatened to get kicked out of another, so we called their parents and were able to get money for them to go home.

What impact do you have?

It's the personal touch reflecting what Hawaii is really about. We're basically people of aloha. When bad things happen to good people, they doubt whether aloha even exists. When someone robs everything from that tourist it ruins their vacation. We had a visitor stop in Chinatown last week who got robbed. They even stole the baby bottle and diapers. We gave them clothing, food vouchers, meal vouchers. It turned the whole experience around. It was no longer Hawaii was a bad experience for me; it's Hawaii was a a good experience for me. There are a lot of good people in Hawaii. In someone's darkest hour they know that goodness will prevail. And they know that when people come to their aid, it really does change the whole experience from a negative into a positive.

What kind of in-kind support do you get from local businesses?

Outrigger Enterprises has been a wonderful contributor to VASH. They've been giving us free rent. Also, Charley's Taxi. Many times we have visitors who are either victims of crime or any other adversity and Charley's provides transport and they've been doing this for several years now. In the case of a fatal accident, they will pick up a widow or the family members and take them back to the hotel from the hospital. Also, the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association. We work with a number of hotels that provide in-kind contributions.

Inside Hawaii Inc. is a weekly conversation with local business and community leaders. It is moderated by Star-Bulletin layout editor Tim Ruel. Submissions can be sent to business@starbulletin.com.



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