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Liliʻuokalani Trust Announces Key Program Hires

HONOLULU (July 22, 2022) – Liliʻuokalani Trust today announced key leadership appointments for its transformative work supporting the most vulnerable Native Hawaiian youth and their ʻohana. The private operating foundation, which stewards the assets of its namesake in accordance with her wishes to support “orphaned and destitute children,” provides programs for youth in the areas of Early Childhood (ages 0-5), Youth Development (ages 6-18), and Opportunity Youth (ages 18-26).

In 2015, the Trust began adding programs to existing social services in an effort to break cycles of poverty for Native Hawaiians who are overrepresented in nearly every indicator of distress including homelessness, truancy, and involvement in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems.  The new hires mark continued progress towards the Trust’s vision of thriving Hawaiian children (e nā kamalei lupalupa).”

Early Childhood (Ages 0-5)


Staci Hanashiro was promoted to Manager, Early Childhood Programs. She will continue to build LTʻs suite of programs and services using an evidence-based “two-generation” model that supports both young children and their caregivers on their pathways to thriving. Most recently, she and her team led successful pilot programs for new mothers on Hawaiʻi Island to strengthen parenting skills and social supports during the pandemic with plans to expand the program by offering housing to select program participants. She holds an MSW from the Boston University School of Social Work and a BSW from the Myron B. Thompson School of Social at the University of Hawaiʻi.

Youth Development (6-18)


Rafael Sarango has been appointed to the newly created position of Executive Director for Liliʻuokalani Center, a 95,000-square-foot program facility for Native Hawaiian youth in urban Honolulu. This exciting space of hope and healing will open in 2024 after extensive renovations are completed. Drawing on his 20+years of experience as a visionary non-profit and education leader, Rafael will work alongside LT’s Youth Development Team and a strong local and national network of partners to deliver transformative experiences in arts, sports, entrepreneurship, and tech. He comes to the Trust from the Center for Urban Transformation in Houston, where he served as Executive Director. He holds a B.S. in Biology and Medical Technology from the University of Houston, in addition to a Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from the Glasscock Schoolʻs Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives at Rice University. 

Opportunity Youth (Ages 16-26)


Leialoha Benson, LSW is now Director, Opportunity Youth Programs. Previously, she was Director, Program Design and and has been working on programs and resources to support youth transition from adolescence to young adulthood. In her new role, she will oversee the Trust’s Opportunity Youth Programs statewide and will oversee operations at Lydia House, a 13,000 square-foot center in downtown Honolulu that supports youth emerging from the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems. With more than 16 years of experience at LT in the areas of social work, youth program development, and research and evaluation, Leialoha will continue her work as an effective champion for youth voice and agency. She holds an EdD from the University of Southern California, an MSW from Eastern Washington University, and a BSW from Brigham Young University-Hawaiʻi.


Supporting LT’s new programs is Jennifer Laʻa in the new role of Senior Director, Program Implementation. She will ensure LT’s rapidly expanding service array is innovative, sustainable, and aligned with Strategic Plan 2045. Most recently, she served as Community Resources Branch Chief of the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Health and as CEO and Vice President of Programs at Easterseals Hawaiʻi. She holds an M.A. and B.A in Political Science from the University of Hawaiʻi, and a B.A. in English. 

“The expansion of our program leadership team is another solid step toward the execution of Strategic Plan 2045 and bringing us closer to our vision of thriving Hawaiian children (e nā kamalei lupalupa),” said Mercedes Lanza, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer. “LT’s endowment supports the expansion of programs and services now and in perpetuity, as per the Queen’s wishes. We have also redefined our strategic plan as we move with urgency toward serving greater numbers of the Queenʻs beneficiaries in ever-more innovative ways,” she continued.

In addition to structuring programs within its key focus areas, the Trust is also undergoing a multi-year plan to convert most of its existing 99,000 square feet of current offices into youth spaces.  In recent years, the Trust also purchased properties in Keaʻau, Waimea, Kaunakakai, Pukalani, Honolulu, and Kapolei.  In total, 335,000 square feet of space will be designed for youth (kamali’i) and their families (‘ohana).  

“The way that we deliver progams and services to kamaliʻi continues to evolve. A key part of this is ensuring that we have the right facilities that are needed at this time,” said Lanza.

For more information about Liliʻuokalani Trust and Strategic Plan 2045: Wehe Ke Ala, visit www.onipaa.org.