Kona-Kohala Chamber Honors Community Members with Pualu Awards

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(L–R) Lee Ann Heely, Kirstin Kahaloa and Carol Ignacio from The Blue Zones Project; Mary Beth Laychak with Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope; Lisa Freudenberger of West Hawaii Community Health Center; Michelle Conrey of ALTRES Staff (back); Barbara Nobriga of Mahealani Ranch; and Mary Villaverde of Hospice of Kona. PC: Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce

The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce (KKCC) Pualu Awards recognize individuals, businesses and/or nonprofit organizations that exemplify a commitment to the improvement and advancement of our community. Winners across five categories were recognized at the recent KKCC annual Membership and Installation Luncheon at the Four Seasons Resort Hualālai, a July 2, 2019, press release stated.

“This year’s categories included Community Education, Culture & Heritage, Environmental Awareness, Lifetime Service and Chamber Member of the Year,” said Wendy Laros, executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. “The people and organizations who received these awards truly demonstrate excellence, creativity and leadership in our community.”

(L–R) KKCC South Kohala Vice Chair Jonathan Mitchell, KKCC Executive Director Wendy Laros, Kelley Cosgrove and Catherine Cambra of Fairmont Orchid and KKCC Board Chair J. Porter DeVries. PC: Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce

The Community Education Award honors an individual or organization that promotes and supports education and enrichment programs that develop personal skills and lifelong learning. Launched in West Hawaiʻi in 2017, the first winner, the Blue Zones Project, is a community-wide initiative that takes a systematic approach on comprehensively changing a community’s environment so that individuals adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors to live longer, better lives. In a letter of recommendation from State Sen. Dru Kanuha, he pointed out that “the project exemplifies community education and outreach as evidenced by the breadth of people and organizations impacted.”


Described as an innovator with a can-do attitude, Mary Beth Laychak, the outreach program manager of Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, also received a Pualu award for Community Education. She is the driving force behind the Maunakea Scholars Program designed to bring Hawaiʻi’s aspiring young astronomers into the observatory community by competitively allocating observing time on a world-class telescope to local high school students.

For the Culture & Heritage Award, recipient Barbara Nobriga of Mahealani Ranch carries a lifetime of paniolo culture and tradition that was passed down to her from her grandmother and mother on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Kainaliu. In fact, both Nobriga and her mother, Kapua Heuer, were inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame. This awardee has lived a lifetime preserving the culture, language and significant landmarks that define our island home. Whether it be the with the Planning Commission where her efforts resulted in preserving sacred places along the Kona Coast to the Kamehameha Day Parade that celebrates Hawaiʻi’s unique paniolo history, the community has benefited by her work.

With a long list of sustainable practices, the Fairmont Orchid received the Environmental Award. From supporting local farms that provide microgreens, lychee, mango and starfruit for their restaurants to switching to biodegradable straws, this property also supports the research and development of healthy beehive practices at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Adopt-a-Beehive Program. Ten percent of all sales of Bee’s Box Wine sold at the Fairmont Orchid go to support beekeeping students in the program.


The crowd cheered as the surprised Mary Villaverde walked to the stage after hearing her name called for the Lifetime Service Award. Highly recommended by members of the community, Villaverde is currently the driving force behind the Hospice of Kona’s Memory Lane Thrift Boutique located on Kuakini Highway in Kailua Village where she manages over 50 volunteers and greets all the regular customers by name. Every item that is donated has a story and Mary listens to these stories and passes them on.

The first Chamber Member of the Year went to Lisa Freudenberger of West Hawaiʻi Community Health Center. As the chamber’s marketing committee chair, this volunteer demonstrated leadership in promoting the organization’s mission, vision and values through active participation and involvement. From providing expertise with a new chamber website to refreshing the Aliʻi Circle program, this member’s involvement helped to create success with important chamber initiatives.

The Kona-Kohala Chamber’s Membership Committee Chair, Michelle Conrey of ALTRES Staffing, was also honored as a Chamber Member of the Year because she demonstrated the true meaning of the award. Pualu means “working together” and in 2019, the Membership Committee and Marketing Committee worked together to design, develop and implement a membership drive with a compelling marketing message and fresh recruitment approach. Promoting “Why Join the Chamber?” with answers such as expand reach, build relationships and support the voice of business, was simple and effective.


The drive was extremely successful due to the dedication of Conrey and Freudenberge, Chamber Members of the Year.

THE KONA-KOHALA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE provides leadership and advocacy for a successful business environment in West Hawai‘i. The result of KKCC’s work is a community of choice as reflected in our quality of life, business and individual opportunity and manifest respect for our culture and our natural resources. For more information, call (808) 329-1758 or visit

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