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.