Ukulele band aid: Concert to offset loss of Waiakea students’ travel funds

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Hilo musicians are hosting a fundraiser Tuesday to help the Waiakea Intermediate School Ukulele Band recoup stolen money that would have funded the students’ upcoming trip to Oahu.

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Hilo musicians are hosting a fundraiser Tuesday to help the Waiakea Intermediate School Ukulele Band recoup stolen money that would have funded the students’ upcoming trip to Oahu.

Earlier this month, police said JoAnn Maldonado, former vice president of the ukulele band’s booster club, allegedly embezzled at least $10,000 in cash from the group. The theft was discovered after Maldonado staged a break-in at her home in an attempt to cover it up, police said.

Maldonado was charged April 13 with second-degree theft and making a false report to police. She next appears in court May 3.

Meanwhile, band director George Camarillo Jr. said Thursday he thinks the band is out around $16,000, which is more than what law enforcement originally estimated. The money was mostly cash students incrementally deposited during the year to pay for the trip, he said. It would have funded travel expenses for about 22 students to perform in June on Oahu.

Most years, the ukulele band takes an off-island trip — an annual tradition and an end-of-year highlight for students, Camarillo said. Last year, band members went to Disneyland.

Camarillo said Maldonado was tasked with collecting this year’s deposits but instead pocketed the money. He said the band was unaware what was happening until she staged the burglary.

“I was upset,” Camarillo said. “I was kind of a victim, too. This will be my daughter’s first performing trip, too.”

Camarillo said he’s hopeful Maldonado eventually will pay restitution but thinks that’s unlikely to happen by June. If the band can’t raise enough money, it will have to “make some really hard decisions when we get there,” he said.

The booster club started a Go Fund Me account and since has raised $3,680.

Camarillo’s friend, Ryan Sabate, guitarist of the Hilo cover band Average Joes, decided to host an informal “Jam-fundraiser” Tuesday at Coqui’s Hideaway to help.

Sabate said he’s invited various “prominent artists from around town” and will include a performance by the Average Joes, a new Hilo-based “pop/rock/top 40 band,” he said. Attendees are encouraged to bring donations and all proceeds will go to the Waiakea students.

“When I heard what happened, I was pretty devastated and sad,” Sabate said. “The program, to me, is really iconic to everyone around town. Even off-island, people know about the Waiakea Intermediate Ukulele Band. It’s a good thing; it keeps the kids busy and involved, and a lot of local artists here got their (start) there. As an active musician in the community, I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.”

The concert starts at 5:30 p.m. at Coqui’s Hideaway, 1550 Kamehameha Ave. The event is 21 and older but donations can be dropped off, Sabate said.

For more information, contact Sabate at ultrazone777@msn.com or 854-4173.

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The booster club’s Go Fund Me page can be found at www.gofundme.com/wis-ukulele-band.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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