Keola Nakanishi - Project Director
Keola Nakanishi /Project Director (PD), who holds a Master’s Degree in Pacific Island Studies (Education
emphasis) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, has provided efficient organizational management since
Mana Maoli’s (MM) inception in 1999. As founder of MM and Halau Kū Mana Charter PCS (HKM), he
served as both ED of MM and Principal of HKM for nine years before focusing the last decade on his current role as MM’s ED, with a long-term commitment moving forward. He has formed and maintained partnerships with MLP school partners across three islands, leading several multi-school projects. Working closely with all project staff, Nakanishi will assume ultimate responsibility for the sound fiscal management, programmatic
implementation, and project reporting.
'Ihilani Gutierrez - Executive Assistant
Born into the eastern valleys of Oʻahu, ʻIhilani was raised there as well as the north and eastern rivers of Kauaʻi. After completing her B.A. in Hawaiian Literature at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa ʻIhilani was called to Hale Aliʻi O ʻIolani (ʻIolani Palace) where she became the first Education Manager in the non-profits history.
Following the Friends of ʻIolani Palace, ʻIhilani joined Mana Maoli in February of 2021 where she now serves as the Executive Assistant. Outside of Mana Maoli, ʻIhilani raises her daughter, Melody, within her home valleys where she happily tends to her gardens, community, and ʻohana.
Melisa K. Orozco Vargas - Project Coordinator
Born and raised in the Kona district of Honolulu, Melisa Orozco Vargas (she/her) is a performance artist, arts educator, community organizer, and mom who prioritizes connection with the ʻāina (land/natural world) and conscious collaboration in her creative work and daily life. She joined Mana Maoli in early 2022, first as a kumu, and in June transitioned onto MM’s Hui Hoʻomohala as Mana Mele Project Coordinator, serving as the primary support for Oʻahu teachers and schools.
Melisa is the former Outreach Coordinator of the Service & Sustainability Program at Kapiʻolani Community College. There, she designed meaningful community-based experiences for college students, supported large-scale college-community partnerships, and grew her potential as a change agent, advocate, and interdisciplinary thinker.
Melisa was awarded the TYA/USA Emerging Artist in TYA Fellowship in 2019, and later that year presented her thesis production, Keiki Kalo, a sensory-based immersive theatrical experience for the very young that weaves moʻolelo, mele, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and hula into a play about ʻāina. Her theatrical explorations extend into her work with ¡好 / Peligro! (or Aloha also means goodbye), the multicultural Hawaiʻi-focused theatre collective she co-founded in 2018.
Pōmaika'i Keawe - Lead Program Instructor
Pomaika'i Keawe, has served as an instructor, education program coordinator, and administrator for 20+ years. Having over 30 years of experience and a rich, musical family background, her expertise is in music and the performing arts. As one of over 200 Creative Industry professionals in the “Mana Maoli Collective.”
Pomaika'i’s excellence in teaching and administration led her to become one of our first year long class instructors in 2013. Her role is to serve as a leader, model, and resource for all kumu, and to work in tandem with the Program Coordinators to coordinate all program services and support.
Kapali Bilyeu - Program Coordinator
Born and raised in Wailua, Kauaʻi, Kapali has played many roles in Mana Maoli, starting off as an office volunteer and eventually joining the Administrative team. Kapali currently oversees year-long programming on Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, & Hawaiʻi Island.
As an alum of partner school Kanuikapono PCS in Anahola, Kauaʻi, Kapali credits her success to the cultural, place-based education she was able to receive from an early age, which inspired her to pursue and earn a Bachelor's degree in Hawaiian Studies as well as completion in the Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Program, both through Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.
Candy Diaz - Youth Choir Director
With more than three decades of experience playing and creating music, Candy Diaz has enjoyed sharing her original compositions with fans as both a solo artist and member of a band. And in recent years, she’s also discovered a new passion for sharing what she’s learned with the next generation of Hawaii musicians.
After being a long time supporter with Mana Maoli as a musician and graphic designer, Candy transitioned into teaching Mana Mele classes in Hakipu’u. 6 years later, Candy has joined Mana Maoli as staff kumu teaching elementary and high schoolers at Hakipu’u Learning Center, Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School and Malama Honua. Candy also took on the role as lead mentor for the new and building Mana Maoli Youth (student aged) and Kupu (alumni) Collectives, offering mentoring, performance, and gig opportunities to the collectives.