By Megan Hadley
It was a night to remember all day to raise money and awareness for HIV on the Big Island – flashing lights, long dresses and illuminated runways took over the King Kamehameha Hotel lobby on Saturday night, August 13. Hosted by Kumakahi Health + Wellness, a non-profit that provides a safe haven for people living with HIV in Hawaii, the Raise the Highway fundraiser was a dream come true.
“This night was absolutely fantastic,” said Cindy Medeiros, Director of Operations at Kumakahi Health + Wellness. “The recovery from Covid-19 has been difficult for us, but we are returning to a sense of normalcy. The fashion show is a big night for us as it’s also our one year anniversary of our new look.”
The fashion show featured four local designers showcasing Hawaii-based style and creativity. Plus, they pulled the show together in less than six weeks.
“How much time do we really need? About six months,” said interior designer Aloha Victor with Kaulu Hawaiian Designs.
But we are here tonight to support this wonderful non-profit organization and to support the community as well. We started getting ready at 8am this morning with hair and make-up, stage practice and haven’t stopped since. We are absolutely starving,” he laughed.
For Victor, fashion means respecting one’s unique style and avoiding any guidelines.
“For me, fashion means designing on my terms, and I design for fun and I try not to follow any fashion rules,” he said. “But I love what I do. Everything we do is made in Hawaii, including the fabrics that are finished and styled on the Big Island. It’s important to us. We want to know where our money is going and the people who work here in the industry.”
However, due to Covid-19, all Kaulua’e Hawai’i products are online.
“Right now we’re using our warehouse for storage, but you can find us on our website or Instagram,” he said.
For the Medeiros, the fashion show was a way to give back to the community after jobs were put on hold during Covid-19.
“The night was an opportunity to go back there and collaborate with these amazing fashion designers,” she said. “We were able to showcase the art they do in fashion. It really came to life. It was so fun to see them all perform on the runway.”
“And we know it’s short notice, but we’re really proud of how this all came together and how hard everyone worked,” she continued.
Kumakahi Health + Wellness offers a comprehensive list of services for people living with HIV on the Big Island, including access to health care and housing, food pantry services and case management programs. They conduct testing and education for STIs in the community.
“We also do preventive services for those who want to protect themselves from HIV,” Medeiros pointed out. “And, we have health insurance programs, so we can connect people to state health insurance.”
The nonprofit has been on the island for more than 35 years — since 1989 — and continues to grow.
“We want to expand our services in Kona,” Medeiros said.
According to Kumakahi Health + Wellness Executive Director Peter Tui Silva, it’s about creating a safe space for people in need.
“We’re a safe place for people to come in and not feel judged,” he said. “We use pronouns and preferred names. So if you come in and feel scared because you look a certain way but the name on your ID says, come to us and you’ll be taken care of.”
Kumakahi Health + Wellness is supported by local businesses and government funding including: Maibar Kona, Hawaii County, United Airlines and more.
Moreover, due to the increasing incidence of monkeypox, Kumakahi Health + Wellness provides vaccinations.
“We’re an anti-monkey site,” Medeiros said. “The nursing department has been managing those and we will continue to help those in need.”
However, Medeiros pointed out that it is not necessary for the people to panic about monkey disease as it is increasing.
“We are here for support and we want this to be a place where people can come and get vaccinated,” Medeiros added.
Fundraisers like Runway Raise the Runway help.
“Tonight was perfect for putting on a beautiful and professional show for the community and giving back,” Silva said. We really want to show who we are and what we do. this is us.”
For partygoer Liz, who asked that her full name be withheld, the night was fun and wonderful.
“I’m excited to see so many beautiful people in one place. I love seeing all the designers. And models. “It was a great night and I love raising money for a cause,” she said.
“I’ll definitely be back next year.”