'Maui, we're here for you': Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi pledges to help island community rebuild

Stephanie Sierra Image
Thursday, August 17, 2023
Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi shares ties to Maui amid devastation
Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi talks about her ties to Maui and how her foundation Always Dream is committed to help rebuild from the fires.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Heartbreaking stories continue unfolding out of Maui as search and rescue crews continue to look for the missing. A tough journey, a familiar face to the island is calling: Maui Strong.

Olympic gold medalist and two-time figure skating World Champion Kristi Yamaguchi spoke to ABC7's Stephanie Sierra about her ties to the island and how her foundation Always Dream is committed to help rebuild.

The Olympian is even offering up her own Maui home to help those displaced.

"The spirit of Aloha is going strong there," Yamaguchi said. "It's heartbreaking but there is so much resilience in the community."

Stephanie Sierra: "What are you hearing from your neighbors who are there?"

Kristi Yamaguchi: "Well, we're hearing that it is really still hard to communicate. There's still no power, water, internet service, so it's been really slow with communication -- some asked to only make text messages because they're trying to share the bandwidth."

MORE: Video puts scrutiny on possible cause of Maui wildfire

Video captured the early moments of what would become the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century. Now the footage has emerged as key evidence pointing to fallen utility lines as the possible cause.

Yamaguchi married former professional hockey player and two-time Olympian Bret Hedican on the Big Island in 2000. The two share a condo together in North Kaanapali.

Sierra: "Is it safe? Have you been able to be there on the ground?"

Yamaguchi: "We haven't been there yet, but it is safe. But, you know, there is no travel or advised no travel into West Maui. Everything's been evacuated. There are displaced employees who are staying in some of the units and we've offered ours up as well. So it'll be several weeks before I think things will be slowly getting back."

Sierra: "What was going through your mind when you first got word of the wildfires?"

Yamaguchi: "Really disbelief. When we first started seeing the enormity of what was happening on Maui and just feeling so much heartache for that community and trying to do whatever in our power here to make them feel supported."

EXCLUSIVE: Bay Area native, Lahaina resident and family left homeless after Maui fires

Suzie Thibault, originally from El Sobrante, describes how her family escaped their burning Lahaina home and the devastating Maui fires as they now deal with an immense loss.

Yamaguchi is the founder of Always Dream, a foundation that's dedicated to supporting underserved students across Hawaii. The foundation has committed to support the rebuild on Maui by supplying books to local libraries and schools.

Sierra: "Can you walk us through your mission?"

Yamaguchi: "Absolutely. Always Dream provides access to high quality books for families in low income communities. We have our program in schools throughout the Bay Area as well as several schools in Hawaii. None of our schools are directly impacted by the fire, but we do have all three schools on Molokai, which are Maui County."

Yamaguchi echoed an important message -- that the Maui community is incredibly resilient, strong and the people have found unique ways to band together.

"To the people of Maui. We're here for you. We're thinking of you. We will be there to help rebuild. Hopefully you can feel our Aloha spirit," she said.

Click here for more information on #MauiStrong t-shirts.

Related stories & videos:

  • Maui residents had little warning before flames overtook town; at least 55 people died
  • Maui wildfires: Everything you need to know about navigating airline travel advisories
  • Travelers wonder what their options are as wildfires devastate Maui
  • ABC News reporter, Bay Area resident Becky Worley details devastation on home island of Maui
  • 'So hopeless': Bay Area families still at risk amid Maui wildfires
  • Track wildfires across Hawaii with this interactive map
  • Lahaina residents show new video of destruction, describe their escape from flames
  • Maui wildfire: Aerial video shows widespread devastation in Lahaina
  • Planning to visit Hawaii? Here's what to know about fires on Maui and Big Island
  • Maui fires: Videos show damage, destruction left behind in Lahaina after deadly wildfire
  • Bay Area American Red Cross volunteers head to Maui to help wildfire victims
  • Maui Wildfire: Bay Area family spends week in paradise, just before it burned
  • SF Mayor London Breed among Bay Area travelers impacted by devastating Hawaii wildfires
  • Bay Area residents feel impacts of devastating Maui wildfires, some struggling to contact loved ones
  • Bay Area firefighter heads to Maui for search and rescue
  • East Bay man loses contact with family in Hawaii amid Maui wildfires
  • Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

    If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live