Formed in 2012, the Lunalilo Scholarship Program awards students a one-year of tuition at Kapiolani Community College, combined with an intensive support system designed to help students overcome many personal, financial and academic challenges. Students participate in a summer bridge program to help them bond with their peer cohort, and prepare for their first year at college. They receive ongoing tutoring, mentorship, financial literacy, skill- building programs, and a range of support throughout their first year.  

About Us
Lester and Marian Kaneta started their family foundation in 1999 with a mission “to support children, youth and family ministries that foster the spiritual welfare of the community by giving hope to those in need.”  The desire to inspire and empower at-risk youth through education was always at the forefront of their giving. Over the past two decades, they awarded 600 scholarships valued at nearly $2 million, through a partnership with the Hawai‘i Community Foundation.  

While the Kaneta’s were deeply touched by supporting many vibrant causes that their community, they wanted the impact of their giving to be more personal and even more transformational.  They were inspired to dream bigger, as they witnessed Honolulu’s growing homeless population getting worse and the cost of "living in paradise” eluding the disadvantaged, the working poor families, and so many minimum wage workers who lacked a basic college degree. Lester Kaneta, a successful international business entrepreneur and CPA, well understood the economic reality that undermines the disadvantaged. “Many lack the fundamental training of how to manage personal finances and find themselves in a dead-end career. They lack role models to help them get to the next level and guide them to their personal  best.  And what you see, is that after high school, it becomes almost economically impossible to work a full time job and go to school. So many are stuck in an economic rut that affects them and their children, and generations to come. It’s not good for them, and not good for our community. I believe we can do better, with some help from educators who are willing to take a risk.” 

As a career nurse, Marian Kaneta recalls the dilemma they faced in their philanthropy. “We really wanted to help people with basic survival needs, but also give to those who were capable of achieving career goals at a much higher level.  We wondered if there was a way to combine our giving so that we could help people of all ages reach for their dreams, and to break the poverty cycle through the power of education with the customized services that they needed to build up a strong foundation.”  
Those and many more questions lead the Kaneta’s to search and research, seeking like-minded innovative partners willing to be resource partners.  And the program was born in 2012. The Kaneta Foundation redirected the majority of their philanthropy to a new entity that would focus on at-risk youth and adults, who might otherwise face homelessness, no job or career, and a life of hopelessness and despair. With the sole support of the Kaneta Foundation, the Kapi‘olani Community College and the University of Hawai’i Foundation launched the Lunalilo Scholars Project. 
Kaneta Foundation About Banner

A Message from Marian and Lester Kaneta

Meeting these Scholars and watching them go through this life-transforming process is by far, the most gratifying thing we have ever experienced in all of our years of philanthropy.  These students are really amazing people, each with difficult life stories. Meeting them, watching them succeed, and thrive, is so gratifying.

Meeting these Scholars and watching them go through this life-transforming process is by far, the most gratifying thing we have ever experienced in all of our years of philanthropy.  These students are really amazing people, each with difficult life stories. Meeting them, watching them succeed, and thrive, is so gratifying.

We believe the Lunalilo Scholars Project has developed an impressive track record because of the individual attention they receive, and the incredible 360 degree support system.  It is a one-of-a kind scholarship program---highly motivated at-risk individuals get a new start in life by enrolling in college, and being surrounded by a KCC support team, which includes their peers. Together, they journey through that first year of college together, which helps them avoid some of the pitfalls of the freshman year.  Students gain life skills which build a foundation for continued success beyond the first year, to complete their degree program and find a purposeful career.

The Lunalilo Scholars Project is based on four pillars of success:  academic achievement, peer mentoring, career planning, and financial literacy. Together, they provide a strong foundation upon which the scholars will continue to build as they create their bright futures.

Four years in the making, this scholarship program at KCC has been so successful, we already have a wait list of students ready to enroll.  But we cannot expand without additional support from other donors who can help grow this outstanding scholarship program.  Just $6,000 covers costs for that first year student, launches their new academic and professional career, and has the powerful potential that impacts our community.



Lester's Story

  • My formative years were spent in Manoa along the river meandering through the valley chasing crayfish and swordtails. It was an easier time that bubbled over with laughter and learning beneath the bridges and sliding down slopes of the riverbed. I was not prepared for the journey beyond Hawaii’s shore but I had developed an enthusiasm and high hopes for what life would bring.   I left Roosevelt High School for the University of Southern California. The City of Angels was exciting. I bought a 10-year old VW bug and traveled the highways of Southern California. Traveling the big wide-open spaces was exhilarating. Upon graduating I opted to remain in my new adopted home and began work in public accounting. A CPA’s life is not the most exciting but it’s a great foundation for business.  An opportunity to work in Asia came my way. I was hired to help manage a buying office in Hong Kong. We worked with many large national and regional chain stores in North America sourcing product from Asia. Over the years we increased our presence from 4 to 14 offices spanning Seoul on the east and Cairo on the west.  It was a thrilling time for us. We enjoyed the novelty of new countries, new cultures, new cuisines and new sources of product. But the quick pace of doing business and bright lights shielded me to the poverty and poor conditions of the underprivileged.  Asia is a stark picture of a world working hard but many are left behind. The hum of factories producing product drowns out the cries of the poor. Unlike the USA conditions of the poor and disadvantaged in Asia are in plain sight. There were very few safety nets.  One day I was at a carpet factory outside of New Delhi and observed a young teenager on a hand-cranked spinning wheel making yarn while nursing an infant. The conditions were deplorable. The factory had dirt floors with poor lighting and ventilation. Her plight was heart wrenching. The vision was forever seared on my mind. And yet there are thousands waiting in line for her job whose lives are worse.  Upon returning home I instructed each office to create a committee for the purpose of awarding grants to organizations working with orphans, teen mothers and the homeless. The response was enormous and we continue with these programs.  At the same time Marian and I founded the Kaneta Foundation. It had very modest beginnings and we gave what we could from year to year to support the at risk and disadvantaged. Over time we were able to contribute to larger programs.  In 2012 the Lunalilo Scholars Program was created with the assistance of Kapiolani Community College and the University of Hawaii Foundation. We met with every one of the 22 students who started the program with us. We talked story. They shared their journey. We were moved. Supporting LSP allows us to support and encourage real people. We revel in their accomplishments because we have come to know them.  Please read and listen to the many stories from our scholars. They put into their own words what it means to be a part of the Lunalilo Scholars Program. Should you decide to support our scholars we encourage you to visit and meet with them. You will not be disappointed and the experience will enrich your lives.

    Lester Kaneta