The Nicest Place in Hawaii: Kamiloiki Valley on Oahu

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Doing Well While Doing Good"

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A debt-ridden student has a brilliant plan to get out of the red: He’ll do good for others.

Like 44 million Americans, Kamaka Dias has a problem: student debt.

“I want to write, travel—there’s so much I want to do, but the student loans were going to hold me back,” says Dias, 27, who graduated in 2016 from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa with $50,000 of debt. “If I can pay them off, then I’ll be free to do what I want.”

Dias spent the last three years after school serving in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Madagascar, teaching English and raising money to buy computers in a remote village—and it gave him the idea of how he could pay off his debt and serve the community at the same time.

“It’s one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet the people are so giving. People are so incredibly kind—you just have to give them an opportunity to show it,” he says.

So, Dias launched “The Race to $50k,” an innovative initiative to pay off all he owes in one year by helping those on Oahu and in his area of Kamiloiki Valley in whatever way they need and asking them to pay whatever they think is fair.

Call it doing well while doing good.

Dias edited videos for local workout studios, did yard work, and sold a conch shell for $100—anything you can imagine.

“One time I dressed up like Buzz Lightyear for a kid’s birthday in the afternoon, and then bartended for a party that night,” Dias recalls. He also made and sold T-shirts in honor of Hawaiian Language Appreciation Month, then donated proceeds to the local Hawaiian immersion preschool. “I’m always thinking of ways to help the community, that can also help me reach my goal.”

many jobs of Kamaka DiasCourtesy Kamaka Dias (3)
There is no job too big or too small for Kamaka Dias.

When the pandemic hit, Dias had to get even more creative, and decided to focus on helping struggling businesses in Kamiloiki Valley. He partnered with five of them to create a Mother’s Day bundle—soap, tea, a necklace and other items, purchased at wholesale and half the proceeds going to his loans. He teamed up with a bakery to deliver free cupcakes won by an “Essential Office of the Week.” And in honor of high-school graduates who didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate, he persuaded 20 businesses to create “Grad Packs” filled with gift cards, treats, clothing, and more—this time at no profit to him but as a service to the community.

To date, Dias has earned $26,000 toward his student loan debt, and also been rewarded with a free car by a local woman who heard his story and wanted a broken-down 2012 Hyundai Elantra out of her garage. A local mechanic gave him a steep discount on the needed repairs. To pay the favor forward, he offered to let anyone he knew borrow his car for a week when he was headed to the Big Island—where he was promptly stuck because of the pandemic. The woman he lent it to was able to use it the whole time.

Dias says his experience has been representative of the “ohana” (family) spirit of Oahu. “I feel blessed,” she says. “It’s insane how kind people are.”

The Nomination

Aloha — my name is Kamaka Dias and I am that crazy guy trying to pay off $50,000 of student loans in one year. On January 6th, 2020, I started something called The Race To $50k where the mission is to pay off $50,000 of student loans in one year by helping people out in the community. I ask people what can I do to help them, help me and do whatever they need me to do. I also don’t charge anything, I just help people out and once I am done with the job they give me whatever they want as a donation.

Ever since the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, I have adapted my mission a bit to cater towards helping out local businesses while still doing odd jobs to pay off my student loans.

A few of my most recent nice stories are:

— I teamed up with five different local businesses to put together a Mother’s day bundle to sell in order to raise money for them and The Race To $50k. Over $500 was raised for the local businesses.
— I recently partnered with another local business called Cupcakes,BOOM! to do a weekly “Essential Office Of The Week” giveaway where I deliver a dozen cupcakes to one essential office every Friday.
— I’ve bought lunch for others as well, and did a bunch of deliveries surprising people for their birthdays for family members who cannot be here in Hawai’i to celebrate it with them.

many jobs of Kamaka DiasCourtesy Kamaka Dias (3)
Dias didn’t let Covid-19 deter his efforts.

I hope these stories will bring you and others happiness and smiles, just like it has brought me so much joy helping people, help me, help us. Kindness is contagious and something we all deserve to be exposed to.

Before the pandemic happened I was making great progress and raised almost $20,000 in around 4 months. For every $10,000 that I make, I plan to do a community event to give back to the land and the people. The lockdowns started the week prior to my first community event and I was pretty bummed. After taking some time off to reevaluate things, I began thinking of ways to support the local businesses while still making progress in The Race To $50k. Hawai’i had one of the strictest stay at home orders in the US so I had to get creative in what I could do. I started doing a lot more deliveries and yard work to help others out. Since a lot of people are stuck in the continental US I was able to help them out with some birthday and Mother’s Day deliveries for their loved ones. Things are still not back to normal but it is amazing to see the community come together to help each other out during these crazy times.

I think growing up in a small community in Hawai’i has always given me that sense of family. Everyone is aunty or uncle, all your friends are like your brother and sister, and helping out a stranger isn’t a shocking thing to see. I have always embraced the Hawaiian culture and thought that people here are some of the nicest people on earth. Once I started my project, that just solidified my belief in the kindness of others.

I believe that everyone is inherently kind, and if you give them an opportunity to help out, they will step up and do just that. The acts of kindness I have seen have been incredible. I honestly don’t think that what I would be doing would be possible anywhere else but Hawai’i. I am truly blessed to live here and witness this kindness first-hand.

Even when the pandemic started and people struggled to make ends meet, they still donated to my cause and were still willing to give to others. That is the true essence of ‘ohana (family) and that is what I’ve grown to know and still see everyday I am living in the beautiful Aloha state.

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