Dean Wong: A Catalyst For Change

August 20, 2012, 9:38 AM HST
* Updated August 21, 2:16 PM
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Sarah Ruppenthal teaches journalism at UH Maui College.

By Sarah Ruppenthal


Dean Wong. Courtesy photo.

Whoever coined the term “can-do attitude” must have had Dean Wong in mind.

The Honolulu native moved to Maui nearly two decades ago, and since then, he has changed the philanthropic landscape of our community in dramatic ways.

A familiar face in the nonprofit sector, the eternally enthusiastic Wong—who regularly takes center stage as a charity auctioneer and emcee—is known for putting the “fun” in “fundraising.”


“I do what I can,” he says. “I believe in our nonprofit community… and how far that reaches into our community to make Maui the best place to live.”


And Wong’s efforts have paid off—literally. “In the past five years alone I have helped to raise over a million dollars for a number of agencies. I am proud to be the voice that encourages people to give.”


Wong and the Dalai Lama.

Wong is no stranger to the inner workings of nonprofits. Now in his second year as the executive director of Imua Family Services, he worked for several years as the house manager of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and before that, he served as Director of HIV/AIDS Prevention Services at the Maui AIDS Foundation. Wong also currently serves as president of the Women Helping Women Board of Directors.

“I live to be a catalyst for change,” he says. “That has been my personal goal since I was in college.”


As a new father, Wong is intuitively aware of the bond that exists between parent and child. This is one of the many reasons why he has taken the mission of Imua Family Services to heart.

“Our mission at Imua is to provide comprehensive early childhood developmental services to children and their families with the support and resources needed to achieve their full potential in life,” he explains. “Every day at Imua, there are stories of our keiki conquering some of life’s biggest hurdles, whether it be finding their voice after many months of speech therapy or getting past any variety of developmental delays that may have occurred as a result of deep trauma from emotional injuries that occurred in the home… sometimes the smallest thing can be the biggest triumph.”

As executive director, Wong works tirelessly to maintain the agency’s vision for his dedicated staff and board of directors, as well as the families who have seen their dreams become a reality. “Basically, I help make the big picture come to life,” he says.


Dean Wong. Courtesy photo.

When it comes to pinpointing the greatest reward of his illustrious career, Wong says he believes the greatest moment is yet to come. “I have been blessed with many life-changing moments throughout my career, from my early work in Africa to working as a public health advocate for native Hawaiians, Asians and Pacific Islanders.”

And as for the greatest challenge? “The greatest challenge was battling Malaria in a jungle in Malawi,” he recalls. “It almost concluded my life before I had a chance to accomplish my goals.”

What’s next for Imua Family Services? Wong says he can’t reveal all the details just yet, but he assures that 2012 will be “one of the most exciting years” in the 65-year history of Imua Family Services.

And with Wong at the helm, there’s no doubt it will be.

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