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How Two Giving Groups Gift

By Lynn Cook and Lianne Bidal Thompson

FOOD AND WATER: For most, it’s something to take for granted. For others, that next morsel or sip of clean water is the difference between life and death. For Jason P. Lester and Jere Matsumoto (and the rest of the Hawai’i Potters’ Guild) these are issues to deal with one step-or bowl!-at a time.

RUNNING MAN To say Jason P. Lester has a zest for life would be an understatement. He sees life as a never-ending quest to “do.” Do more, do his best and seemingly, do everything.

An athlete, author, artist and philanthropist, Lester grew up playing baseball and football until an accident at the age of 12 left him paralyzed in his right arm. During that first year of his rehabilitation, his father died suddenly. Instead of letting it bring him down, the triathlete used this “challenge” to propel him into his new life.

“A challenge isn’t a negative thing,” he says. “I learned that if you embrace the challenge, it’s going to make you a stronger person.”

Lester used athletics, specifically his running, as a coping mechanism; and it’s this focus on one’s goals and natural talents that he wants to teach kids.

“My heart is with the youth. I want to get back to that 12-year-old boy and show him that we all have challenges- we’ll have them all throughout life. If kids learn to develop their skills and talents, they’ll be so much better off.”

The ESPY-winner has been living in Kona since 2007, and that’s where he’d like to build an EPIC Center for the community. He envisions the EPIC Center with areas for athletics, arts and even classes for senior citizens.

It was because of the adversities he’s faced in his life and his unique way of overcoming them that Lester found himself uniquely qualified to reach out to kids.

“I race with a purpose,” he emphasizes. “Everything I do is charity-driven. (One day) I was racing, and it clicked in my head…I’m not racing for myself anymore. (Racing is) only a platform to reach more people.” This summer, Lester will embark on the Badwater Ultramarathon race, an invitation-only 135-mile race through Death Valley ending at Mount Whitney. He will use it as yet another platform for getting clean water to developing areas around the globe.

For this endeavor, he joined forces with Dennis Hida of Kane’ohe, who had been conducting his own grass-roots fundraisers to build waterwells in developing countries. Together, they formed H2OPE, which will raise monies to give to Operation Blessing, an organization known for providing clean water in places such as Haiti, the Philippines and Nigeria.

In March, Lester will hold a Tread24 event in which he’ll run on a treadmill for 24 hours. The public is invited to join him and/or watch him on a live feed on his website: www.neverstopfoundation.org. People can donate money then or again in July, when he’s running the Badwater.

“I’m so honored and humbled that I get to thrash my body and push my limits out there,” he says, adding that he knows people who’ve run Badwater-those who have finished, and those who haven’t. “It’s a brutal, brutal event. I’m going to be carrying those kids in Haiti, the youth in the Philippines, the 8-year-old girl who doesn’t have another chance, with me.”

FILLING A NEED

The artist-members of the Hawai’i Potters’ Guild throw pots. They start with a chunk of clay, turn it on a wheel, glaze and fire it and begin again. Ceramicist Jere Matsumoto heard about a mainland community project and decided to fire up her fellow Hawai’i potters. The result was the Empty Bowl Project, a short two-hour sale of 700 bowls, each filled with gourmet soup.

“When I first heard about this kind of a project being done across the mainland and Canada, I knew it was a way to help the hungry in our town,” explained Matsumoto. “When I asked, hundreds of our Hawai’i potters said yes.” To date the response of all the chefs, the potters and the mainland artists has been, “who can argue with Jere? We just nod and say when.”

Two years later Matsumoto, assisted by nearly every potter on O’ahu, has created 3,000 bowls. On March 18, Slow Art Friday in Honolulu’s Chinatown, the bowls will be filled with the delicious soup creations of 20 top chefs. Café Laufer, 12th Avenue Grill, Alan Wong Restaurants and Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar are just a few of the eateries donating soups.

“The cost is $20 to enjoy the soup and take the bowl home,” Matsumoto says. “We hope to raise thousands of dollars for folks whose bowl is often empty.” Pauahi Street and Fort Street Mall will be steaming with cauldrons of soup.

Her first Empty Bowl Project raised $11,899. The goal for the 2011 event is $60,000-plus. The guild also invited 20 of Hawai’i’s top artists to create a signature bowl, up for bid at the ARTs at Marks. Proceeds will be split between Hawaii Meals on Wheels, which serves 400 daily meals to the homebound, and the River of Life Mission, serving more than 15,000 meals a month in Chinatown.

It has taken two years to make 3,000 bowls, with a little help from friends. In addition to the dozens of guild potters, others who have thrown bowls include college ceramics programs, seniors’ craft programs, Boys and Girls Club members, and kids from Kamehameha and Punahou schools.

Noted Los Angeles potter Xavier Gonzales did a workshop in Hawai’i, heard about the project and flew back to Honolulu to throw 500 bowls. There was a “throw-a-thon” with 10 experienced potters “facing off” to create 750 bowls in two hours. Bisque firing, glazing and glaze firing took another two months. About the Empty Bowl event, Matsumoto says, “bring cash and come hungry.”