Nonprofits receive unexpected funds from Leis family

Betty Leis presents a check to Art Vento, president and CEO of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, earlier this month. Leis’ children Nancy Leis Overton and Stephen Leis appear in this photo. The Dorvin and Betty Leis Charitable Trust handed out a total of $1.5 million to 17 Maui nonprofit agencies. Leis family photo

At Ka Lima O Maui they ring a bell when something good happens.

Executive Director Chantal Ratte of the 61-year-old nonprofit organization that helps find employment for people with disabilities was ringing that bell loudly last week.

Betty Leis and family traveled around the island spreading good tidings and cheer to 17 nonprofit organizations — a total of $1,258,964 to be exact. It came from the Dorvin and Betty Leis Charitable Trust, and the disbursement was triggered by Dorvin’s death in June 2015. He was 86.

“I came back and rang the bell really loud,” Ratte said after receiving the donation from the Leis family. “It comes at a great time of year.”

“This was definitely like a Christmas present,” said Robert Nakagawa, Scout executive of the Maui County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, another beneficiary.

The association to the holiday season was accidental but apropos.

“It is coincidental (but)  . . . it’s certainly a good time to give,” said Stephen Leis, son of Dorvin and Betty, on Wednesday.

The trust was established in 1989 by Dorvin and Betty Leis with the professional support of their financial adviser Curtis Otsuka, Stephen Leis said. The charitable remainder unitrust named the 17 nonprofit organizations and the percentage they would receive back in ’89. A charitable remainder unitrust pays the beneficiary a fixed percentage of the principal of the trust as it is revalued annually.

Stephen Leis said that his parents wanted to make sure the mix of nonprofit groups offered diversity.

“One of Betty and Dorvin’s goals and values during their lifetime and beyond was to reach out and extend a helping hand to people, organizations and the community they love so dearly,” Stephen Leis explained.

The designated organizations were Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Maui County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scout Council of the Pacific, Hospice Maui, ARC of Maui County, Maui Family YMCA, Maui Hui Malama, Horizons Academy of Maui, Mental Health Association of Hawaii, The Salvation Army, J. Walter Cameron Center, Imua Family Services, Teen Challenge Hawaii, University of Hawaii Foundation, Baldwin High School, Easter Seal Society of Hawaii and Ka Lima O Maui.

“Betty and the entire Leis family are pleased that the money can be used to benefit organizations that support and serve the people of Maui,” said Stephen Leis.

Over the past couple of weeks Betty, Stephen and other members of the Leis family have been handing out checks to the beneficiaries. The Leis family declined to disclose the amount presented to each nonprofit organization.

Though the establishment of the trust was publicized 27 years ago, leaders of some of the nonprofits contacted Wednesday were surprised to receive the “substantial” sum.

“It was a complete surprise. I had no idea Ka Lima was one of the organizations in the trust,” said Ratte, echoing the sentiment of Nakagawa.

Ratte said that Ka Lima was still trying to decide what to do with the money, adding that “there is always so much need.” Ka Lima’s leaders are considering putting the money toward employment programs, job coaching and equipment.

The Boy Scouts, which had recognized Dorvin Leis as a distinguished citizen, plan to use the gift for operations “and serving the kids in Maui County,” Nakagawa said. He added that one member of the Leis family was an Eagle Scout.

Dorvin and Betty Leis were on the board of Hospice Maui for a dozen years between them and had been “substantial donors” to Hospice Maui’s five-bed residential facility, Hospice Maui Hale, which opened this month at the top of Mahalani Street in Wailuku, said Executive Director Dr. Greg LaGoy on Wednesday. Their names will be put on a donor wall.

There is another connection to Hospice Maui. In his final days, Dorvin Leis was under the care of the organization that he and his wife supported for so many years.

“The donation timing for us was wonderful because we were stretching to bring everything together to bring the hale together,” LaGoy said, referring to startup costs such as training.

“I almost fell over,” LaGoy said of receiving the check.

He said that “the fundamental theme from my end and Hospice Maui’s end is tremendous gratitude.”

The Leises were touched by the reaction.

“I was overwhelmed with happiness when delivering the checks, knowing that this money would help these organizations carry out their missions of providing needed service to the people of Maui and improving the quality of life for those in need,” said Betty Leis. “I was greeted with kindness by every organization, and I felt good about all of them.

“This was truly a feel-good moment for me and the family and comes at one of my favorite times of the year.”

Stephen Leis offered the family’s gratitude to the community for supporting them and the business Dorvin Leis started in 1972 after moving his family to Maui from Riverside, Calif. Over the last four decades, Dorvin D. Leis Inc. has grown to become the largest mechanical contractor in the state with more than 450 employees on Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island, according to the company website.

The company does plumbing, sheet metal, fire protection and air-conditioning work, Stephen Leis said.

“I think that it’s important to know that our success over the years, making it possible for us to give back to the community, would not have been possible without the support and loyalty of our employees, clients, business associates, the community and countless others,” he said. “We are so grateful for these relationships and to be able to call Maui home. The place, the people and the culture are dear to us. We are sincerely thankful.”

In the black-and-white Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, it was said that every time a bell rings an angel earns his or her wings. When asked if the doling out of more than a million dollars to Maui nonprofits during this holiday season represents the ringing of angels’ bells, Stephen Leis responded: “I certainly will leave the angel work to the angels. We are just thankful to contribute to the community that has been really good to us.

“The work of angels belongs to the angels.”

Maybe the nonprofits are ringing the bell.

“They are doing good things for the community, and we couldn’t be happier to help out,” he said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at