Midweek

March 4, 2020

by CAROL CHANG

Hailed as dedicated businesswomen and leaders within their professions, Gina Woo Anonuevo, Shelee Kimura and Crystal Kaiulani Rose are this year’s honorees at Girl Scouts of Hawai‘i’s 2020 Women of Distinction Dinner.

Girl Scouts of Hawai‘i’s 2020 Women of Distinction dinner March 13 will salute three already outstanding local leaders, and it promises to inspire the next generation of female movers and shakers among its 2,530 scouts statewide.

Cookies, camping, crafts and good deeds are on the agenda, of course, but the evening will be steeped in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — career fields that are wide open for aspiring young women.

Men also are invited to attend, be entertained, eat well — and be very amazed.

Headlining the annual GSH event are three role models with inspiring stories to share: First Hawaiian Bank executive vice president and chief compliance officer Gina Woo Anonuevo, Hawaiian Electric Co.’s senior vice president of customer service Shelee Kimura, and Kamehameha Schools trustee Crystal Kaiulani Rose, who is also a founding law partner of Bays Lung Rose Holma. All are near the top of their careers with plenty to tell the young scouts.

The public is welcome at the gala benefit, which begins with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom. Besides the honorees’ talks, there’s a gourmet dinner, silent auction and scout-led activities. For details and to buy individual tickets (through March 10), the public may call 595-8400 or visit gshawaii.org/womenofdistinction.

All proceeds stay with the Girl Scouts of Hawai‘i (GSH), which has embarked on an exciting STEM center project at Camp Paumalu, located on a forest ridge near Sunset Beach, and other initiatives designed to build world leaders out of local girls.

Of the trio, Anonuevo is the only one who didn’t grow up with scouting. Coming from an admittedly dangerous, impoverished neighborhood in Oakland, California, she says she had neither the time nor the money to join a troop. She admits she’s excited to learn that Hawai‘i now offers free afterschool scouting at 15 Title I schools and several other youth venues across the state. (There’s even a small troop for homeless girls who meet through a partnership with Family Promise.)

“I wish I could have been in it,” Anonuevo says. “I see their confidence level. But I was bussed across town to school and I took care of my younger sister afterwards while our parents worked … I went through a lot.” The Chinese American is proud of being self-taught and having “turned out OK.” But she admits that a Girl Scout support system would have helped.

Her personal plan started when she left home at 17, stayed with her boyfriend and got by with part-time work as a bank teller and grocery store clerk. With the help of a wonderful couple who mentored her, she eventually earned a bachelor’s in accounting from Cal-State Hayward and graduated from Pacific Coast Banking School in Seattle. Meanwhile, there was marriage, two sons to take care of, and an eventual divorce.

Anonueva came to Hawai‘i “to work hard in a non-government job that paid for performance.” She currently shares a Hawai‘i Kai home with her longtime fiancé and seven dogs. Her sons are now grown and doing well in the Bay area, and her banking career has taken her all over the world, as she gained experience in auditing and anti-money laundering, and as a bank examiner in California and for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. She leads a team of 43 employees at FHB, Hawai‘i’s largest bank, where they work with 2,100 others to keep the bank up-to-date and compliant with all rules and regulations to shield consumers from harm.

“Nobody knows what I do,” Anonuevo laughs. What she does is “make sure that things don’t happen.”

Just like Girl Scouts, mentoring is a huge part of her work here, where she’s lived happily for 14 years. Among many other duties, she visits schools to share FHB’s My Money program (“They don’t know what checks are!”), she partners with HPD to speak to kūpuna on Safe Banking, and she helps teens earn a Passport Book certificate.

Free advice: “I like the G for go-getter in Girl Scouts. You can’t just sit and let things happen, but you must think of how you can make yourself better. For me, I love to analyze and find ways to do things better and problem solve, find the root cause and how to correct it for the long term.”

A tip for self-comfort, notes the Hawaiian Humane Society board member: Get a dog.

Kimura is a proud graduate of Aiea High, University of Hawaii (as a Presidential Scholar) and the Advanced Management Program at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. She is a CPA with a lifelong passion for hula and an abiding love for the outdoors.

“Hula has given me perspective, experiences and life lessons that I would not have otherwise had,” she explains, noting that her award-winning halau traveled far and wide, sharing Hawaiian culture, language and dance.

Despite claiming nature as her cherished “sanctuary,” a terrifying thunderstorm during a Brownie campout as a child also left its mark. It’s still vivid in her memory because surviving it gave her “a sense of accomplishment.” A few years ago, Kimura also took turns with other busy moms leading a Girl Scout troop for their girls. Daughter Kaelah fondly recalls the troop and the great friends she made.

“It was fun and hands-on,” the youngster says. “With my dad, we made first aid kits and learning to do CPR. We did school craft fairs and hiked on Kaua‘i. It was a good time in my life.” Kudos, Mom.

Thanks to Stan and Shelee Kimura’s supportive, extended family, she is able to balance her role as wife and mother of three with her career at HECO to promote clean energy, which she views as one way to give back to her home state. Honored for her leadership in the field, Kimura currently oversees customer energy resources, such as rooftop photovoltaic systems and storage, strategy and operations. And she’s proud of what the public utility has achieved.

“We are changing an entire system … and as a result of the joint effort of many, Hawai‘i is leading the nation in many ways” — such as the percent of residential customers with rooftop solar on the grid. “My hope,” Kimura adds, “is that the work I choose to do today will make a difference in my children’s lives tomorrow and the generations to come.”

Her free advice: “Don’t let anyone tell you that being a girl is a limitation. Being a girl is a strength and you have a place at the table. Just figure out what you care about — what you’re willing to work hard for — and choose your table.”

Regarded as tough and fearless these days while negotiating high-stakes legal fights for her clients, Rose is an attorney and proud Hilo girl with Portuguese/Hawaiian genes who admits, “I wasn’t a cool kid.” The daughter of a Big Island police captain, she first came to O‘ahu in seventh grade as a boarding student at Kamehameha Schools. Escalators in the big city startled her at first. “I thought they might eat my toes!”

Not much has scared her since. Prior to her appointment as a Kamehameha Schools trustee last year, Rose championed the case for then-Bishop Estate trustee Oswald Stender to oust Lokelani Lindsey, which led to major reforms to the school trust. She’s led bank merger fights, high-profile land and construction disputes, and is on the boards of several prominent companies and nonprofits. While strategic thinking and impacting the community are definite highs, Rose also likes to garden in her Kahalu‘u yard, loves Thin Mints, teaches lei-making to Girl Scouts, plays Legos with the keiki at Kamehameha’s Kapālama preschool, mentors young lawyers, hangs out with current boarders at her alma mater and earned Girl Scout badges in cooking and gardening. (“I have a sash somewhere … ”)

She calls her spouse of 30-plus years, engineer Rick Towill, “the string to the balloon” and credits him, their two grown sons and extended family with enabling her to pursue her career and serve as a “beacon of hope” to Pauahi’s keiki. Rose also was the first in her family to attend college on the mainland (Willamette University and UC Hastings School of Law).

Rose is excited about the Girl Scouts’ STEM initiatives, partly because she loves math, her brother is a math teacher, and both her husband and one son are engineers. “I want to help girls find their voice so they can conquer the world and make it a better place,” she declares. And a bit of advice for all of tomorrow’s female engineers and scientists from someone who has been there/done that: “Work hard, study hard and dream big.”

GSH is definitely dreaming big with its Stem Center for Excellence. Thanks to a two-year partnership with the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training Program, the center is nearly 50 percent complete.

“We were one of only four projects selected nationwide for the IRT partnership,” says Shari Chang, the CEO for GSH since 2014. “That’s 50,000 man-hours (and woman-hours) of work, equating to a $2.5 million donation in military labor. We are in the middle of a capital campaign to generate the last $3.2 million.” The March dinner will help boost funding to finish the job of rebuilding and modernizing the aging North Shore campground.

In upper-level laboratory spaces, both scouts and non-scouts can explore and experiment on everything from cybersecurity to physics to environmental stewardship. The lower level will offer leadership training, a dining hall, commercial kitchen, health center and more. (The 135-acre camp’s lodge and grounds are closed for now, but other island sites serve campers.)

“We have 45 new badges for STEM-related projects,” adds Chang, a lifelong Girl Scout and strong STEM advocate whose own scouting daughters have embraced the movement, too. One is an engineer and the other an international attorney.

And they also used to sell cookies. Chang herself now prefers the new Lemon-Ups to Thin Mints. The new cookie is the shortbread kind with a lemon glaze, and it’s printed with motivating slogans, of course. Glad you asked: I am Strong, I’m a Risk-Taker, I’m a Leader, I am Bold, I’m an Innovator, I’m a Go Getter, I am Creative.

Scouts follow the proven theme of Courage, Confidence and Character, including Ellen W., a teenager who aims to take mechanical engineering and Air Force ROTC in college. “Ten years from now I’ll be a short-distance airline pilot,” she declares. She’s working on her Gold Award (scouting’s highest achievement), which will provide accessible searches for teens’ college career interests. Her troop also made pillowcases and pillows for homeless people. “There are new opportunities every month!” Ellen takes both high school and college classes meanwhile, and is currently doing booth cookie sales on weekends. Her favorite flavor is Thin Mints. (Public booth sales began Feb. 22 across the state. For digital orders, go to cookies@gshawaii.org).

Madison F., who prefers the Samoa cookies, already earned her Gold Award in career exploration and job opportunities — matching what a girl wants to do with how best to get there. “The perfect college is important too,” she points out. “It’s a waste if it’s the wrong one.” As an Ambassador Scout, she also mentors younger girls in skills needed for “more successful cookie sales,” among other tasks. Madison plans to be a Navy surgeon and officer.

Rylee B. has set her heart on earning her Gold Award via a trip to Kenya. She’s already made two mission trips there with her dance studio, and she’s traveled across the U.S. seven times. Now Canada and Paris are on her list. Meanwhile, “I really love traveling in general, and camping and cooking over a fire.” Creating new cheers for new cookies (Lemon-Ups for her) is also fun. “Maybe I’ll be a flight attendant.”

Hawai‘i girls are truly taking action, according to Chang. Other Gold projects she likes: a STEM enhancement initiative, financial literacy, donating comfort pillows to terminal cancer patients, a proposed law to have Epipens and trained staff in all Hawai‘i schools, a hydroponic lettuce garden at a scout’s church, a map and self-guided audio tour for Hawaiian Humane Society visitors.

Plus, through next fall, there are a dozen STEM activities planned for scouts around O‘ahu.

Distinguished Women

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