A Helping Hand Far From Home

If you were robbed or injured while traveling in a place far from your island home, it would be wonderful to have someone there to offer a comforting word, some support and the reassurance that there are people who are genuinely concerned about your welfare.

On Oahu, that’s the mission of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH), which does a terrific job in demonstrating the spirit of aloha to travelers in need, and in serving as a key member of the visitor industry community.

VASH was established in 1997 by the Honolulu Rotary Club as a nonprofit, volunteer organization that shares the aloha spirit with visitors in need. Today, it is the only Travelers Aid affiliate in the state and receives funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and private donors to continue its charitable endeavors.

Jessica Lani Rich is the president and executive director. Jessica is assisted by two full-time employees, seven part-time case managers, and more than 100 public-spirited volunteers who are trained by VASH to support the mission of the society.

VASH offers help to visitors with round-trip tickets who have been on the island less than 60 days. The society does not provide airfare or give cash to visitors, but does help provide temporary, immediately needed services such as law enforcement, medical care and hotel support.

The organization’s work can find the staff and volunteers in a variety of settings.

Some incidents involve lost or stolen wallets and personal belongings. VASH assists with securing replacement travel documents and personal identification by cooperating with the Honolulu Police Department and foreign consulates.

The group’s volunteers have aided with medical emergencies, such as assisting with illness or death cases, helping pregnant women, and offering moral support by locating doctors and working with hospitals such as Straub, Queen’s and Kaiser.

Quite literally, VASH helps thousands of visitors a year. Just a few days ago, a Japanese tourist was stabbed in his car while lost in Palolo Valley. VASH volunteers went to the hospital to provide moral support to the victim and family members. VASH also handled some of the needs of the visitors.

When a man’s spouse died on the first day of a 25th wedding anniversary vacation, VASH was there in his darkest hours and helped him return home. The grateful widower told Jessica, “At this very moment, you’re my best friend.”

A teenage girl was injured in a glider crash five years ago while on vacation. The girl and her family return to the island every year and visit the VASH office to say hello.

These and hundreds of examples are reflected in the testimonials the society receives from thankful visitors, strangers who have found friends who care in Hawaii. While VASH toils without much acknowledgment or appreciation from the public at large, it’s gratifying and reassuring to those of us in the visitor industry that there are those in our community who are working tirelessly to ensure that the aloha spirit lives.

For more information on the good work of VASH, visit the society’s website at visitoralohasocietyofhawaii.org.

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