To help Lahaina heal, he traveled to another fire-ravaged town — and found reasons for hope

Like so many others in Lahaina, the August 8th fire had a tremendous effect on Garett Feliciano's life.
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 1:07 PM HST
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PARADISE, Calif. (HawaiiNewsNow) - Like so many others in Lahaina, Garett Feliciano’s life changed on Aug. 8 — the day flames destroyed a place he loved.

“I lost my job, I was working in Kaanapali and we rely on tourism and unfortunately, because of this tragedy, a lot of us lost our incomes,” he said.

Feliciano, a full-time employee at the Monkeypod Restaurant in Kaanapali, knows Lahaina very well. “I was a boarder at Lahainaluna, I spent a lot of time, learning a lot of traditions about Lahaina. You know we’re a small community where everybody knows everybody,” he said.

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The aftermath of the blaze had an immediate affect on him and he observed all the destruction and devastation.

“One of the toughest things for me is just driving through Lahaina at night and not seeing any of the lights on,” Feliciano said.

“It’s a very surreal feeling, it breaks my heart but we’re going to get though this.”

Garett decided he needed to get out of town to regroup and get his mind straight.

Based on the advice from a good friend he found himself in a northern California town that had seen its own share of death and destruction.

“She thought it would be a good idea to come up here just to kind of interact with people of Paradise so that I can kind of cast a vision of the future of what we can expect back in Lahaina,” he said.

LESSONS FROM PARADISE: As part of this special series, HNN’s Jonathan Masaki traveled to Paradise, Calif. to look at how they’re still recovering from a catastrophic fire five years ago.

That friend is April Kelly.

She and Feliciano met in Lahaina when they both worked at Merriman’s. Kelly, too, has a heavy heart due to her ties to the Valley Isle but she knew Paradise is where Feliciano needed to be.

“One of the biggest things that you could do when you are hurting is to help somebody else. That’s going to help you in the healing process,” said Kelly.

“Having the ability to talk to people who have already been through this has been so surreal and so helpful because now I know what obstacles that lay head for our community and hopefully, we can help navigate that.” said Feliciano.

Feliciano has remained away from Maui, saying he’s taking it one day at a time.

“So I am just going to refocus on healing and focus on rebuilding my mindset and body and really focus on being as strong as I can possibly be because when I go back I really want to make an impact and help our community,” he says.