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One Teen’s Vision Culminates in a Concert at Soka University for Maui Wildfire Victims

Ukulele ensemble leaders from left, Evan Brusky, Sydney Malone and Kasey Chau, at the Island Bazaar ukulele pop-up event. Photo courtesy of Stacy Malone
 

The recent Maui wildfires hit close to home for one Orange County teen.


Sydney Malone, 15, of Laguna Niguel discovered her cousin and ukulele teacher in the Lahaina region of Hawaii had lost their homes last August. Last week, authorities officially identified all 100 victims of the disaster, in which more than 2,200 structures burned and 10,000 people were displaced.


“I was feeling helpless because … even if we do raise a ton of money, is that going to make a difference?” Malone said. “As a kid, what can I do, with a gig making $100. This problem seemed so big to conquer.”


Malone is a sophomore at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) in Santa Ana. After the fires, the young musician pulled out her ukulele and began to perform in small venues around town. Other students began to join her, and now, nearly six months after, the fundraising efforts have grown to include over 100 students and local residents.


The cast of volunteers kick off their first large-scale benefit concert on Sunday, Feb. 4 at the Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. Soka University donated the space, and 100% of the proceeds will go toward building transitional housing for Maui wildfire victims.

‘Ohana’ – Music for Maui Benefit Concert

When: 3 p.m. Sunday Feb. 4

Where: Soka Performing Arts Center, 1 University Drive, Aliso Viejo

Cost: Tickets range from $25-65 

Tickets: Available at the door or online at soka.edu/soka-performing-arts-center or donate here.

For more information: instagram.com/music4maui


“Ohana” will pay homage to Hawaiian culture, with an eclectic set list ranging from classical to bossa nova and ending with an eight-piece rock band. The 1 hour, 40 minute production takes audience members on a journey from the mainlander’s view of the islands as a vacation destination and delves deeper into the rich traditions of what “ohana” (family) really means.


The first act of the show features students from OCSA, Aliso Niguel High School and Pacific Coast High School. New media students produced background videos, while ballroom dancers will feature cha-cha pieces.


Sophia Vernon, 15, co-leader of the musical theater choir at the OCSA, will be singing “We Know the Way” along with 24 other students in another piece.


“It conveys the message we are students, but we know how to make a difference,” Vernon said.


Evan Brusky, 16, teaches ukulele classes at Sea Country Senior Center in Laguna Niguel. His mother Heather is also one of the students, and the whole ensemble will be performing classics such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Lean on Me,” along with more contemporary tunes like “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars.


The second act features performances from the Hālau Hula Lani Ola Dance School in Laguna Hills. The final performance will be by Malone singing an original piece, “The Ohana Song,” with her ukulele teacher Matt and the full cast as accompaniment.


"The word ‘ohana’ means family but it goes so far beyond aunts and uncles — it’s the community coming together to support,” said Ross Chun, an Aliso Viejo councilman.


The Hawaiian-born Chun was a guest lecturer at Soka for over 20 years, and was instrumental in securing the venue for the show. The former Red Cross employee is host of the Ohana Stories Podcast and holds events around the region educating locals on Hawaiian culture. 


“The important thing I saw in Sydney was her empathy … and her ability to take her talents and convert them into fundraising efforts,” he said.


Music for Maui has raised $10,000 so far. The money came from small gigs and a five-hour concert at Tony Pepperoni Pizzeria in Aliso Viejo on Sept. 23. About 20 students performed and raised $3,000, with the restaurant also donating 20% of its proceeds that evening.


Claire Harmsen, left, and Sydney Malone perform at Tony Pepperoni during a concert where they raised $3,000 for Music for Maui. Photo courtesy of Stacy Malone
 

So far, $7,500 was donated directly to the Red Cross. The Family Life Center, a 501(c)(3) organization in Maui, is the new recipient of the donations. The nonprofit purchased at least 60 “pop-up” homes from Continest in Long Beach, and plans to purchase about 200 more, a project totaling $10 million, according to NPR. Called Ohana Hope Village, the development provides temporary housing for displaced families and seniors.


The concert was originally slated for October, but was postponed until Sunday to give organizers more time to prepare. Music for Maui aims to raise at least $20,000, and has already sold more than 400 tickets of the 800 available. It will also be holding a bake sale and selling merchandise during the 20-minute intermission.


Over the last six months, the Music for Maui students also approached several corporate sponsors and other local businesses, but ran into roadblocks with some potential donors raising suspicions or coldly refusing.


"Sydney has always been an empathetic and caring kid, but the project itself hasn’t always been butterflies and rainbows,” said Stacy Malone, Sydney’s mother. “Despite the setbacks, they just dig deep and keep pushing forward. They’re the ones who will inherit the world and make changes.”


The aftermath of the fire in Maui. Photo courtesy of Stacy Malone
 

Malone and her mother flew to the island last month on a self-funded trip to meet with the charity and see the burn site.


“It was just shocking … it looked like a bomb dropped,” Sydney Malone said. “Seeing everything still scorched and the destruction on the ground was jarring and depressing. But it also put my mind in the right place, like this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. It gave me this sense of purpose.”


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