Hawaii Petroleum’s Laura Alfonso has a passion for helping her fellow Hawaiians lead healthier lives.
By Hilary Reeves
Laura Alfonso knew from a young age that she wanted to help people – and she didn’t waste any time getting started.
“Shortly before graduating from high school, I had to decide whether to go to college or get a job,” she explained. “I decided to go straight to work and started interviewing for jobs during my last few months of high school. One of my interviewers asked when I could start. I was graduating on June 6, so I said ‘I can start June 7,’ and I was hired on the spot working for a large, local bank in downtown Honolulu.”
Born and raised in Honolulu, Alfonso’s now a Senior Account Manager at Hawaii Petroleum on Maui. Her parents met and married when her father was stationed on Oahu. The marriage was short-lived, ending before she was born. Her grandparents, first generation immigrants from Japan, raised Alfonso.
“My grandmother was a ‘picture bride,” she said. “My grandfather came to Hawaii at age 16. As was custom at the time, my grandparent’s marriage was arranged by both families. My grandparents only had a picture of each other before my grandmother was sent from Japan to Hawaii to marry in 1932. They were happily married for 58 years.”
Alfonso’s grandparents had seven children. Although her grandmother couldn’t read, write or speak English, she ran a successful delicatessen on Oahu where Alfonso began helping when she was seven years old. Through the mentoring of her grandmother Alfonso learned the importance of servitude, a custom of her grandmother’s samurai heritage.
“We were taught in our family home that the life of a samurai is the life of a servant, and it was ingrained in us early on to help and serve anyone we could.”
Alfonso began her career as a file clerk at a local bank, and married in 1979. She married her high school sweetheart; the couple now has two daughters and six grandchildren.
Alfonso’s husband was in the U.S. Army, and the couple moved to Germany with their two young daughters in 1984.
“We came from Hawaii, and we learned really quickly what cold was,” she laughed. “It was the coldest winter in Germany in more than a decade. Temperatures dropped to 30 (degrees) below (zero). I developed a wonderful friendship with our landlady there in Germany, and she taught me some German and I taught her some English. We were well loved there in Germany.”
After Alfonso moved to Germany, she was hired at American Express on post.
“I’d always wanted to be a loan officer, and after meeting with the branch manager, he created a loan department for me to work in. I loved my job, and helping the soldiers and community there.”
One of the most rewarding times of Alfonso’s career came every year during her Christmases overseas.
“I remember in particular I processed as many as 26 loan applications in one day to send soldiers back home for Christmas,” she said. “My manager thought I was crazy, but it was worth everything to see the soldiers get home to their ‘ohana’ [family].”
The family moved back to Hawaii in 1988, this time to Maui.
“Maui was always intriguing to me,” said Alfonso. “There’s something magical about this island. I promised myself that I would live there someday, and here I am.”
Alfonso again landed a job in loan servicing, this time for GE Capital. When the company closed its Hawaii operation, she went in heavy equipment sales.
“I made a lot of friends in the construction industry. When the opportunity came for me to build our home, I had so much help and support from a lot of my contacts and friends,” she laughed. “The thing about Hawaii is we have strong relationships with people.”
Alfonso was hired at Hawaii Petroleum in 2010.
“Once again, I get to focus all my customer service and sales experience in a new way to help the people and businesses of Maui,” she said.
Joining Hawaii Petroleum has also allowed Alfonso to continue helping others outside of the office as well.
“I’m a Type 1 Diabetic,” she said. “Doctors – they diagnose and prescribe medication, but it was up to me to learn to become my own doctor, in a sense. I researched what works and doesn’t work for me. I started to learn about the benefits of healthful living.”
Alfonso learned of a community-based health program and wanted to learn more about the lifestyle.
“I started testing all the lifestyle principles (of the program) on myself and made some simple changes, and it made a big impact on my disease,” she said. “I saw a big improvement.”
This motivated her to travel to New Mexico to get her certification to conduct the community health program, so she could begin helping others. She wasted no time, and began running the program on Maui in 2008.
“We built up a team, and organized to get them trained and certified to move forward in helping our community with this amazing health program,” she said. “We have helped hundreds of people get off medications, lose weight, eat better, and live longer and happier lives. It’s a powerful way to help and serve other people in need.”
Out of the 700 certified community health chapters across the country, Alfonso and her team’s hard work resulting in Maui being ranked third in results.
“The program’s founder flew to Maui to see the incredible results we were having here,” she said.
In addition to the program, Alfonso stresses the importance of a sustained lifestyle change.
“We keep participants connected through cooking classes, outdoor activities, and other community-building activities,” she said.
Recently, she and the eldest of her six grandchildren started a healthy, plant-based meal prep-delivery service.
“I plan the menu and prep while my granddaughter takes the orders and manages the business,” she explained. “Everything is fresh and healthy. It’s geared toward busy working people who are looking for healthy meals, but are too busy to cook.”
Alfonso said she looks forward to a future full of friends, family, new recipes, and sharing her food with others.