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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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Ruben Jimenez - 

Ruben Jimenez is passionate about music and loves using his skills to support and create positive vibes. He spent over ten years as a musician in the Chicago music scene playing different styles from latino soul, rock, cumbia, festivals, restaurant gigs, and jamming monthly with a tropical bass DJ. 


Kelli Heath-Cruz - Project Lead Engineer/Instructor

Born and raised on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, Kelli joined the MM team in the 1900ʻs as an engineer, educator and mentor. She teaches project youth to use the solar-powered mobile studio she serves as an educational resource to further develop hands-on skills and knowledge in engineering, video and music production, and project management.

Keanu Alop - Audio Engineer

Keanu Kaleikaumaka Kenui Dudoit Alop hails from the ahupua'a of Waipi'o in the Ewa district of O'ahu. Currently, he resides in old Mililani Town with his lovely little family, where they are blessed with rain when the sun rises, and again when it sets. 

Keanu joined the Mana Maoli team 5 years ago as an intern, while wrapping up his Audio Engineering degree at Honolulu Community College.


While enjoying his time as an audio engineer, he also enjoys: hula, fishing, bodyboarding, golfing, hiking, cooking, going to the gym and spending time with his loved ones. 

Ivy Lagodlagod - Digital Media Content Producer

Ivy Lagodlagod is a Native Hawaiian who has been with Mana Maoli for 2 years, capturing the beauty through various mediums, and telling stories through mele and mo'olelo. Some things that keeps her life rich and blessed are her 'Ohana, Hui Mo'oka'ao and perpetuating the Native Hawaiian practice of growing Kalo.

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Brad Watanabe - Kumu/Engineer

Brad Watanabe is a musician from the island of Oʻahu. He has worked for Mana Maoli as a teacher, mentor, and engineer for 6 years. Brad is an advocate for the Hawaiian language, working in Hawaiian immersion schools and volunteering his time to promote and normalize its use in everyday life.

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Kiley Kochi - Digital Media Content Producer 

Kiley Kochi was born and raised on the island of Maui. She is an alumni of King Kekaulike High School in upcountry Maui. She started at Mana Maoli in 2020 as an intern, when she was a student at the University of Hawai'i Mānoa. She is a Digital Media Content Producer and works on shooting and editing video projects. In her free time she enjoys powerlifting and going to the beach. 


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Mia Waiʻaleʻale “Liʻi” Sarsona  - Community Outreach Manager 

Mia Waiʻaleʻale “Liʻi” Sarsona was born and raised in Waimānalo, Koʻolaupoko, Oʻahu. Liʻi is a proud graduate of Ke Kula o Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau, LPCS class of 2019. She also graduated from Windward Community College with her Associates in Hawaiian Studies and Liberal Arts the same year she graduated high school. 

Liʻi holds a Bachelors of Arts in Hawaiian Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is also a recent ʻūniki graduate of Hawaiian healing practices under Ka Pā o Lonopūhā. She is committed to empowering ʻōpio to use their voice as well as uplifting those voices in spaces where ‘ōpio often go unheard. 

As of June 2020, she serves as the Alakaʻi of Hui Hoʻoulu Kaiāulu or Community Outreach Mentor and Manager at Mana Maoli. She is honored to be able to give back to the Hawaiian focused charter school community that raised her.

Moea Kekauoha - Community Outreach Mentor 

Born and raised on the island of O'ahu, Moea grew up in Kaimukī along with her two sisters and brother, later moving to Kāne'ohe in her early teenage years. Moea grew up in a musical and athletic household, and took volleyball at a young age.


After graduating from 'Iolani School in 2016, she continued her studies and athletic career at Menlo College in Northern California. A small, private business school, she found herself drawn to digital marketing, content creativity, and branding. Moea graduated in 2020 with her Bachelor's Degree in Business with a focus in Marketing. She continued to live in the Bay Area and then returned back home to Kāne'ohe, O'ahu after connecting with Mana Maoli in 2021.

At Mana Maoli, Moea is a part of Hui Ho'oulu Kaiaulu or the Community Outreach Team. She focuses on the social media side of things as well as communicating with external partners.

Anela Tolentino - Community Outreach Assistant 

Born and raised in the city of Kaimukī, Anela grew up with her older brother and her mother. As she grew older, she became surrounded by karaoke along with her brother and his friends playing the 'ukulele, where she found her love for music.

She graduated high school in 2019, finding an increased interest in social media and digital marketing, after growing up in beginning of the digital age, and have always had a connection with the Hawaiian culture and wanted to help amplify their voices. With her interest, she then interned with Mana Maoli in 2019, during her first year of college at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. While interning with the nonprofit, she learned a lot about the Hawaiian culture and people, along with the digital aspects of a company.


Today, she has become a recent graduate from UH Mānoa, earning a Bachelor's Degree of Arts in Communications and has been with Mana Maoli for almost 4 years, holding the title as Community Outreach Assistant, focusing on the social media and outreach side of the company, while also floating around and doing video and editing work with the Mo'oz.


'Ihilani Gutierrez - Executive Assistant & Events Manager

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. As a long time advocate for Hawaiian Education, she has presented at various Education Summits across the country, presenting Hawaiʻi's history through curriculum, poetry, & music.


Following the Friends of ʻIolani Palace, ʻIhilani joined Mana Maoli in February of  2021. She now serves as the Executive Assistant and Events Manager of Mana Maoli where she oversees our Mana Mele Project & Mana Maoli events as well as supports the Executive Director. She has coordinated dozens of events & music videos with over a 100 of Mana Maoli's Collective of artists, videographers, and engineers.

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Matthew May - Office/Project Assistant

Born and raised on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, Matt has been with Mana Maoli since 2018 and worked across a wide spectrum of projects from inventory and asset management, office administration, and training module development, to inventory management and acquisition, all while leveraging years of experience in the studio and on set to provide auxiliary resources for audio and video production.

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Pua Perkins - Executive Assistant

Pua Perkins was born and raised in Lahaina, Maui and is a 2011 graduate of Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus. In that same year, she moved to Oʻahu to attend the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In 2015, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Hawaiian Language.

Since graduating, Pua has worked in the education field as a teacher with ʻAha Pūnana Leo, the Hawaiʻi DOE, as well as Kamehameha Schools and has also worked for her church in the music and media department. Today, she continues her passions in Hawaiian language, music and multimedia as a musician, songwriter, and producer.

Pua is married to her husband Elijah and together they have 2 sons, Manaia and Elia who will be born in December 2022.


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Faioso Leau - Capacity Building Manager

Faioso joined Mana Maoli in 2021 as the Capacity Building Manager. She works on a wide range of areas, including but not limited to Human Resources, finance, grant management, and contract administration. Her BA was in Biology and she minored in Dance at the University of Hawaii at Manoa before also receiving her MPH in Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health. Previously, she worked at the Pacific Islands Primary Care Association and the Hawaii Public Health Institute. 


Keola Nakanishi 

Keola cites his kupuna as the core of his education, inspiration and growth, especially his own Kūkū Julia Waineʻe, Kumu Keola Lake (oli/hula), Aunty Margaret ʻAipoalani (mele/moʻolelo), ‘Anakala Eddie Ka’anana (loʻi), Kumu Alvah (lomilomi), Kanalu Young and Captain Clay Bertelmann. Other sources of learning, grounding, and inspiration include various lo’i (taro farms), loko i’a  (traditional fishponds), waʻa (surfing and sailing canoes), heʻenalu (surfing) and weekly kanipila sessions held at his hale for over a decade. 


His formal education includes public schools on West Oʻahu, Kamehameha Schools, a B.A. Degree in Economics at Occidental College, and an M.A. in Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai`iat Mānoa, with an emphasis in Education and Hawaiian Studies. 


Keola is the founder/Executive Director of Mana Maoli (MM), and founder/former Principal of Hālau Kū Māna Public Charter school (HKM). MM started off doing monthly events, then weekly classes for its host communities, Papakolea and Maunalaha Valley Homesteads, before formalizing its 501(c)(3) status and starting HKM, the first school on O‘ahu to receive its charter, opening its doors in 2001, with community, culture and environment-based curriculum.  A few years later, Keola was recognized nationally for his efforts with MM and HKM as one of the ‘Top 20 Leaders Under 30’. 


Keola continued to serve as both Principal of HKM and ED of MM until his daughter Kui was born in 2007, upon which he focused only on his kuleana with MM. From this point, he was able to focus more on fundraising and growth for MMʻs sailing canoe program, Kānehūnāmoku Voyaging Academy, until this program grew in scope to warrant forming their own nonprofit in 2012. This in turn paved the way to focus on growing MMʻs music programs, which in 2013 became the ʻMana Mele Projectʻ, consisting of a Music & Multimedia Academy, a solar-powered mobile studio, and a collective of over 200 Creative Industriesʻ Professionals. Today, Mana Mele serves thousands of youth across 20 partner schools on 3 islands.

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