Volunteer Profile: John Au


After 15 years of volunteering for Kaneohe-area schools, John Au’s name sounds familiar to many. Notably, he launched and worked for many years on the annual Shoebox for the Homeless project, involving schools in producing nearly 10,000 shoeboxes filled with donated clothes, food, necessities and encouraging notes for the needy.

​Au’s genius: a tendency toward new, sometimes unconventional solutions. The challenge: Au’s boss wanted him to promote their company’s financial services to Department of Education employees. Dreading the stereotypical “pushy salesperson” persona and disliking public speaking, Au found a way to let his actions speak.

The result: Students often participate over and over in Shoeboxes because they’ve learned the joy of helping and want to keep the feeling alive. Schools compete for the highest participation levels; top winners receive $500 from Au’s workplace, Chinen & Arinaga, where he serves as a financial adviser and vice president. The homeless get essentials and their children get “presents” — creatively wrapped shoeboxes often containing toys and stuffed animals.

Au, an avid surfer and youngest of four children, credits the students, who collect, donate and decorate the boxes, as the heroes.

At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Au met his future wife, Ahuimanu Elementary-King Intermediate-Castle High alum Cheryl Ige. Kaneohe became his home and all three of his daughters attended Kapunahala Elementary. Cheryl taught at Kaneohe Elementary for 20 years.

Although his three children have left Kapunahala, Au remains active in the Castle Complex. His motivation for continually serving since 1999: “Kapunahala gave my kids a good foundation, so I’m eternally grateful,” he said.

Among his current contributions are co-chair of Kapunahala’s School Community Council​; community representative for the Castle Complex Community Council; and work-group member of the 5R’s (respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, relationships and resiliency). He was recognized for teaching and living the 5R’s recently.

“John demonstrates a wonderful way for people to live the 5R’s and he exemplifies what he and I are taught in church: Help the needy and share with others,” said Cynthia Okazaki, PACT Kaneohe Community Family Center. “He’s a giving person, willing to do everything from waking up early to getting helium canisters to setting up signage.”

Furthermore, “the people who come to our food bank are always grateful when we have the shoeboxes because they contain things that we can’t give them,” said Lanette Mahelona of the Kualoa-Heeia Ecumenical (KEY) Project. “The kids feel like they’re getting presents because the boxes are decorated.”

Contact Information

Jorene Barut

Phone: 808-233-5700

Email: Jorene_Barut@hawaiidoe.org


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