Hundreds if not thousands of children and community members on Maui and abroad have been educated or been touched by the "Pono . . . Do What Is Right" campaign lead by Maile and Jon Viela.
The positive message spread by the Kahakuloa couple grew out of tragedy in 2004, when their 3-year-old son, Pono, died of injuries suffered when an all-terrain vehicle his father was driving suddenly flipped over.
The Vielas organized their first golf tournament in 2004, in memory of Pono, and continued it for several years, raising thousands of dollars for local nonprofits.
In Christmas 2004, Maile Viela said she didn't feel like going Christmas shopping while she was grieving Pono's loss. Instead, she printed "Pono" shirts to give away.
Since then, the Pono campaign that promotes values, good sportsmanship and positive choices has skyrocketed. Pono shirts, stickers and other accessories are sold and are worn all over the world. Meanwhile, Vielas' nonprofit All Pono organization supports youth sports on Maui and Lanai, with at least several hundred children who play under the Pono club name in softball, soccer and baseball.
"I think they definitely turned a tragic situation into something very positive that not only benefits their family, but the entire community," said Central Maui state Sen. Shan Tsutsui, whose 11-year-old daughter, Mikayla, plays softball on a Pono team.
"The whole organization emphasizes good sportsmanship, being model citizens; ultimately that is far more important than the sport competition on the field," Tsutsui added. "I think it's more off the field teaching and lessons that are going to be the most valuable for the kids."
There is even a waiting list for children wanting to be involved in the Pono club, which accepts children ages 4 to 14, Maile Viela said.
"It's growing too fast for us,"she added.
Viela never envisioned the Pono campaign would grow so quickly, but from the start her husband wanted it to "go really big."
"I would like for it to be bigger," Jon Viela said.
Craig Okita, director of the Pono baseball program, commends the "kids first" program.
Okita, whose 8-year-old son, Reyn, plays for the Pono Braves, said the Vielas have coaches undergo positive coaching classes with trainers hired from the Mainland. Parents also can receive training in how best to help their children in sports and how to act at sporting events, Okita said.
"I think it's a great program," he said. "It's out there for the kids, trying to get them prepared for the next step."
The organization relies on fun runs and grants to raise money.
Maile Viela, is a Waihee Elementary School counselor and serves as coordinator for other school programs. Jon Viela is a guidance and health teacher at Baldwin High School and serves as the school's head baseball coach.
They also have two other children, Jrae, 12 and Jai, 5.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.