How Grand Junction’s Hawaiian community is raising money for wildfire victims in Maui

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APTOPIX Hawaii Fires
A general view shows the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Colorado Mesa University’s extensive Hawaiian community is raising money to help victims of the Lahaina wildfires. 

The CMU Alumni Association’s Hawaii Chapter is sponsoring the Mavs Malama Maui campaign, which seeks to raise $20,000 by the end of 2023. Bronson Henriques is the former president of that chapter and part of the decades-long tie between CMU and the Hawaiian islands. 

“There's a strong connection between Hawaii, the people of Hawaii and Western Colorado, and then the Grand Valley specifically. And so what we've been kind of sharing with folks is that it's our kuleana, our responsibility to help our extended ohana. And so that's essentially what it is. So Maverick's taking care of the people that have called this place home, but just helping out our fellow man in a lot of ways too,” Henriques said. 

Fires tore through Lahaina in August, killing an estimated 97 people. Henriques, who is from O’ahu, said the nature of the Hawaiian community is such that you’re never too far from someone affected.

“I've got family on Maui. Thankfully they weren't in Lahaina,” Henriques said. “The first question we get is, ‘Do you know anyone that was in the fire?’ No, I don't. But I can guarantee you I know someone that does, or I have a direct connection with someone that does, and so does everyone else.” 

The fundraiser includes a Hawaiian cooking class, profit-sharing nights with businesses in Grand Junction — including Hawaiian-owned restaurants — and direct donations. Hawaiians have been linked with Western Colorado for decades. Phil Pe’a came to Grand Junction more than 40 years ago on a football scholarship. Pe’a went on to serve on the Grand Junction City Council. 

Henriques said the Western Colorado Hawaiians are a tight-knit group, and were quick to start organizing the Mavs Malama Maui fundraiser. 

“It's just this spirit of caring, of love,” Henriques said. “I mean, aloha translated into English is love, and it can mean a lot of different things too. So yeah, I think ultimately that spirit of aloha, that need to take care of one another, rings true for me.”