Fairy Godmother for Maui children in crisis

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

As the program coordinator for Imua Family Services’ Dream Imua, Rainelle Lushina brings dreams to life.

When Rainelle Lushina joined the staff of Imua Family Services nearly two years ago, it didn’t take long for her to realize she’d landed the job of her dreams.

“It’s a perfect fit for me,” she said. “I really love what I do.”

And it’s a dream job in every sense of the term: As the program coordinator for Imua Family Services’ Dream Imua, Lushina enriches the lives of children by making their dreams come true.

Modeled after other wish-fulfillment programs for children, Dream Imua (formerly A Keiki’s Dream) creates and coordinates monthly “dream days” for kids ages 4 to 16 who have endured a traumatic event, including abuse, neglect, homelessness or the loss of a loved one. Eligible children are referred to Dream Imua by social service providers, and once a child (called a “dreamer”) is selected to participate in the program, Lushina meets with them one-on-one to suss out what their “best day ever” would be.

“I ask them, ‘What is the most amazing day you can think of?’ “ she said. “Then I do everything in my power to make it happen. . . . I want to give them the best day of their life.”

Since she took the helm of Dream Imua, Lushina has partnered with community sponsors to create unique and meaningful experiences based on a dreamer’s interests and worldview. Dream days run the gamut from “Moana”-themed birthday parties to horseback-riding adventures to resort staycations to shopping sprees — and just about everything in between.

Following each dream day, Lushina creates a personalized memory book filled with photos, a narrative of the day’s events and a handwritten note on the last page. In her note, she reminds the dreamer of his or her intangible gifts — for instance, a sense of humor, curiosity or confidence — and encourages them to use those gifts to make the world a better place.

The themes and activities may differ, but Lushina says all dream days have one thing in common. “Every dream day is filled with magic,” she said. And to create that magic, Lushina journeys into a child’s imagination.

“I have to see things from a child’s perspective,” she said. “As adults, we often don’t realize how precious the little things are to kids.”

And one of the most longed-for “little things” doesn’t cost a thing, she said. “Giving kids a day focused on them can shift the way they see the world, give them something exciting to look forward to, and on their dream day, when we focus all of our attention on them, we validate their sense of self,” Lushina explained. “As they move forward, they can continue to seek out positive experiences, because with this big day of their dreams, we’ve set them up to expect good things and trust others.”

For Lushina, designing a dream day from scratch comes easily. Long before she took the reins of the program, the Illinois-born-and-raised Lushina was making her mark on Chicago’s interior design world. After graduating from the Harrington College of Design in 2007, she interned for a hospitality design firm before taking a job with a luxury interior design and interior architecture firm in downtown Chicago. Then, nine years ago, life took an unexpected turn when she visited Maui for the first time — and waved goodbye to the Windy City a few weeks later.

In the years that followed, she worked at a Maui interior design firm, taught classes at the Hui No’eau, worked as a teaching artist at the Hui No’eau’s Camp Kaluanui and led an after-school program at Kalama Intermediate School. In January 2016, Lushina was hired as the assistant coordinator for Dream Imua and Camp Imua, a weeklong recreational camp for special-needs children. Last August, she took the lead as Dream Imua’s coordinator, and last month, became the coordinator of Camp Imua, too.

Managing both programs simultaneously is no small feat, but Lushina is clearly capable of handling the dual roles.

“Both Dream Imua and Camp Imua work in a similar fashion,” she explained. “They inspire the community to become involved, and like all of Imua’s programs, there is a mission to empower children and their families.”

While she may play the role of Dream Imua’s fairy godmother (a moniker bestowed upon her by several dreamers), Lushina says she couldn’t do it without the generous support of the program’s community sponsors.

“Our community is so interconnected, which means that positively contributing to the life of a child here can have a lasting impact beyond just that one child’s life. I believe we can heal the past and present and create a bright future by connecting the community in this uplifting way,” she said.

“To those who have sponsored or supported a dream, I hope you continue to smile at the thought of the dream you made come true. Because of your support, one of Maui’s most deserving keiki felt loved and appreciated and will hopefully continue on a more fortunate path going forward.”

To learn more about Dream Imua or to inquire about donor or sponsorship opportunities, call 244-7467, email dream@imuafamilyservices. org or visit www.imuafamilyservices.org/dream.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.


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