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A Davidson-Maui Connection

by | Aug 14, 2023

Recent Davidson graduate JaimeLee Felipe (center) was born and raised on the island of Maui.


For some folks in Davidson, the news of the destructive and deadly wildfires on the island of Maui seems a world away, but for others it is much closer.

Five years ago this month, I was walking through the Davidson College bookstore in search of a last-minute gift. I overheard a family conversation, and it was something that was said that made me bold enough to walk over and say, “are you from Hawai’i?”

JaimeLee not only danced at Davidson, she choreographed a number of dances in several performances.

I was stationed at Pearl Harbor for three years and have continued to travel back to the islands as often as possible.

And, as luck would have it, the answer to my question was yes. Mom, Dad, and daughter were indeed from Hawai’i. In fact, it was their first visit to Davidson – just the day before daughter JaimeLee was slated to start as a first-year student. She had made the decision to attend Davidson sight unseen.

JaimeLee Felipe ’23 and her family are from Maui. Since they didn’t really know anyone in Davidson, we struck up a nice conversation. Her parents were eager to make a connection with people in Davidson given that they were dropping their daughter off at a school 6 time zones and nearly 4600 miles away. [Note: Davidson is just under 4000 miles from London.]

The conversation in the aisles of the bookstore led to a dinner in town the following night, and an aloha farewell to her parents with the promise that we were here if their daughter needed anything. We had experience as an international host family, and this seemed to be just as important for many of the same reasons. A young, seventeen-year-old, first-year student far-far away from home without any off-campus contacts and her closest relatives live in California.

Fast forward a couple of months and the unthinkable happened, the Davidson College campus, like so much of our world, shut down due to COVID. JaimeLee had a significant dilemma. With a course load of morning classes, she would be getting up in the middle of the night to Zoom in from home. So, she reached out to ask if she could stay with us.

The larger “Ohana” at Commencement 2023.

And for anyone who saw the Disney movie “Lilo and Stich,” “’Ohana’ means nobody gets left behind.” We said yes. JaimeLee was now part of our Ohana (our family), and she moved in with us. Most importantly, she survived living with us, and we survived having a teenager in the house.

She and her family have been our extended Ohana ever since. She has joined us for holiday meals. There have been rides to the airport, as well as ball games and dance recitals to attend. And this past May, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics.

Her proud “COVID-year honorary parents” celebrated with her parents, brothers, aunt and uncle as she officially became a Davidson alumna. By the time she graduated, she had already made plans to stay in the greater Charlotte area for a couple more years. She is working as a Teach for America teacher, living with another Davidson alum in the N. Charlotte/ Huntersville area.

The immediate Felipe family, with the proud Davidson graduate adorned with many lei.

But now back to the important reason for this article. When we started hearing the news about the devastating wildfires on Maui, we reached out to JaimeLee’s Mom. She assured us that they were okay – as the fires were not directly impacting Kahului. As the magnitude continued to grow, she shared with us the impact the tragic losses in and around Lahaina are having across the island.

We had other friends who had recommended making monetary donations to the Hawai’i Community Foundation’s “Maui Strong” campaign, the Red Cross’ Maui disaster fund, and the Maui Food Bank.

That’s when this whole story came full circle. Remember the part of this story where JaimeLee showed up in Davidson sight unseen. How did she find Davidson? It wasn’t a guidance counselor at Kamehameha Schools; it was her middle school mentor.

Eleanor Worth, JaimeLee’s robotics mentor, first told Jaime about Davidson. She had visited Davidson on a college search with her son (who opted for Princeton) and she made the match.

Now here is how Davidson can return the thanks to the woman who made that connection. Ms. Worth is one of the co-owners of the Kula Sandalwoods Inn and Cafe. Sadly, the establishment was completely destroyed, suffering the same fate as so many homes and businesses. You can donate to the GoFundMe account set up to help rebuild Kula Sandalwoods.

All that remains of the Kula Sandalwoods Inn and Cafe.


Update: JaimeLee shared the following recollection about Mrs. Worth:

“Aunty Eleanor was my robotics coach and we used to have weekly meetings on Saturdays at Kula Sandalwoods. Everyone would bring some type of potluck dish. Robotics helped get me interested in engineering, and it is why I got into physics. She put so much work into our club. She would close her whole restaurant just for us. We got better every year and my 8th grade year we even placed 2nd at states. She would always check in on me, even during high school. She was also super helpful. When I was looking at colleges, she really pushed me and helped me through the whole process. I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t get much help from my high school. Aunty Eleanor is the reason I found out about Davidson. I was able to get a lot of financial aid which helped make college accessible for me. She helped with the whole college application process. Now I want to help other high school students with my similar background to make college accessible.” 

Please, if you are able, help the people of Maui by donating what you can.

Mahalo nui loa!

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