Viewpoint: Cameron Center is Maui’s place of hope

Two thousand years ago, it took more than a month to reach the Hawaiian Islands by sailing canoe. Two hundred years ago, it took nearly a week for steamships to make the journey.

Today? A few hours on a plane and anyone can call Maui home.

The annual winter migration has begun. Visitors seeking refuge from colder climes simply board a jet and magically emerge in sunny Hawaii. Rushing from rental car to resort to restaurant, some never fully experience the caring nature of this very special place.

Maui has become a popular destination for millionaires and billionaires who, of necessity, may move in secluded circles that insulate them from our island community. While they may enjoy great luxury, there is tremendous loss in coming to these islands seeking warm weather while remaining in cold isolation. True and lasting warmth comes only through human connection and caring.

Whether Maui is your home for a week, a month, a season or a lifetime, you are invited to play an active role in our island community. Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to share the love in your heart. All one need do is volunteer, contribute or help in some way.

The J. Walter Cameron Center especially needs your love. As Maui’s home for social service agencies, the center is where Maui residents find help when they need it. It is home to 15 resident agencies that deliver crucial health and human services to more than 30,000 Maui community residents each year.

But numbers don’t tell the real story. The Cameron Center is Maui’s place of hope. It is where we go when cancer strikes our family, when we learn a young child is autistic, when we struggle to care for an adult with developmental disabilities, when a loved one requires mental health services. It is where we find people who care when we need it most.

Conveniently located in Central Maui, many people believe that the state and/or the county operate the Cameron Center. They do not.

The vision that led to the creation of the center began with two remarkable men: J. Walter Cameron, then the publisher of The Maui News, and local businessman Douglas Sodetani. They saw the need for a social services facility where, as Cameron put it, “the roof doesn’t leak and, when the wind blows, it doesn’t blow right through the wooden walls.”

Cameron donated the first $10,000 for a feasibility study. After determining the idea could work, the two men worked with federal and state legislators, Maui County elected officials (the county donated the land for the building) and the community to raise the $2.2 million needed to build the facility. The Cameron Center opened its doors in 1973 as one of the nation’s first shared space facilities for nonprofit agencies.

While enjoying great success, the Cameron Center will turn 40 this year and its wrinkles, wear and tear are showing. As the costs of maintaining and operating an aging facility continue to rise, we are responding with innovative ideas. For example, forward-thinking energy-efficiency programs have cut energy consumption by 25 percent. We have successfully completed a portion of our building rehabilitation plan, but there is still much more to do. Express the love in your heart by helping, whether Maui is your home or your home away from home.

* Alan Kaufman is the newly elected president of the J. Walter Cameron Center board of directors. Located on Mahalani Street in Wailuku, the Cameron Center’s mission is to assist people with special needs by providing a home for Maui’s social service agencies. For more information, see