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In her element

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Wailuku resident Karen Motooka, aka “ReStore Karen,” is the donation procurement ambassador at Habitat for Humanity Maui’s ReStore. SARAH RUPPENTHAL photos

Her name is Karen Motooka, but you might know her as “ReStore Karen.”

Motooka can’t pinpoint exactly when she got the nickname, but she’s happy it stuck.

Motooka is the donation procurement ambassador at Habitat for Humanity Maui’s ReStore in Waikuku, a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center that sells new and gently used building materials and household goods.

It’s a win-win all around: At the ReStore, customers can purchase items priced significantly below retail value, knowing the proceeds will help Habitat for Humanity Maui build, renovate or repair homes in Maui County. On top of that, individuals and businesses can donate household items, leftover building materials or overstocked, discontinued merchandise knowing they are diverting usable materials from the landfill.

Motooka has been at the ReStore since its opening in 2005 at its first location, the former TK Supermarket in Wailuku. Anyone who knows her would agree she was a perfect fit for the job. A self-proclaimed “garage sale queen,” Motooka has skillfully organized her share of sales in garages, driveways and front yards over the years, both for herself and others. So when she learned Habitat for Humanity Maui was planning to open a store that would sell a wide-ranging assortment of donated items — essentially, an endless garage sale — she seized an opportunity to work there.

As one of Habitat for Humanity Maui’s longest-serving employees, Karen Motooka takes every opportunity to share the nonprofit’s mission and accomplishments with others. To date, the organization has built or renovated 144 homes in Maui County and has provided housing to more than 500 people.

Sixteen years later, she says the ReStore, now located on Lower Main Street in Wailuku, still ticks all the boxes. Great customers? Check. A chance to use her garage-sale savvy every day? Check. Being a part of an organization that changes lives? Check.

In addition to helping customers pick out the perfect lighting fixture or determine the inswing of an interior door, Motooka often teaches them about the nonprofit behind the ReStore.

“Many people know about the ReStore, but don’t know what Habitat for Humanity does,” she said.

Since it became an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International in 1997, Habitat for Humanity Maui has built or renovated 144 homes in Maui County, providing housing for more than 500 people. The nonprofit offers a variety of housing programs to applicants who meet Habitat for Humanity Maui guidelines. Through its homeownership program, it sells homes to low-income families — those who fall within 25 to 80 percent of the Maui County area median income — at a zero-interest and no-profit basis. It also offers assistance to qualified homeowners in need of critical repairs and retrofits through its “Brush with Kindness” home preservation program. And recently, Habitat for Humanity Maui launched a Maui County Office on Aging grant-funded program for qualifying senior or disabled homeowners in need of safety-related repairs, retrofits or home modifications. Safety upgrades, such as tub-to-shower conversions, window replacements and the installation of grab bars, railings and nonslip flooring, are completed at no cost to the homeowner.

No matter the program or project, Habitat for Humanity Maui works toward a single goal: to provide strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter.

You can help the nonprofit achieve that goal by volunteering to help build, renovate or repair homes. No construction skills? No problem. Training is provided, so all you need is a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. You can also take part in public awareness events like the nonprofit’s annual Build-a-Thon fundraiser and International Women Build Week events. (Motooka has participated in both.)

Volunteers are also needed at the ReStore. Volunteers come from all walks of life and it’s a fun, flexible and fulfilling gig. And bonus: You get to work with Motooka.

Habitat for Humanity Maui’s ReStore is located at 1162 Lower Main St. in Wailuku and is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Donations are accepted from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment only. Certain items cannot be accepted. Pickup service is available. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 242-1140 or email restore@habitat-maui.org.

To learn more about Habitat for Humanity Maui and its programs or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.habitat-maui.org or call 242-1140.

* 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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