20th Anniversary Story | Tuli Tafai: The Mayor of Ewa Beach
Growing up in Ewa Beach, it seemed only natural for Tuli Tafai to assume a role of responsibility. "I am the oldest of 8 kids," Tuli recalls. "Both our parents were around when I was little, but when they separated I had to step in to help raise my younger brothers and sisters."
As a youth Tuli threw himself into sports, competing in football, volleyball, basketball and track & field while at Campbell High. But when he left to pursue a college degree at Northern Arizona University, the needs of his family intervened once again. "We had some financial hardships as a family and I needed to return home from Arizona to take care of my younger siblings. I've been raising them ever since."
Not long after he returned home came the Recession of 2008, and a round of layoffs that cost Tuli his job. "Fortunately I had an aunt at UHA who told me that they were hiring, so I ended up applying and was hired for a position in Enrollment Services. That was one of the best decisions I've made in a long time."
Tuli and a handful of his family members. To the far left is his aunt, who also works for UHA.
As an Enrollment Services Representative, Tuli helps UHA employer groups enroll their employees and understand their benefits. "UHA does a great job at figuring out how we can be of better service to our members, our providers and our employers. Being able to help people — I think that's the whole vision here at UHA. Every day we go home knowing that we helped someone, and that's the most satisfying part of my job.
"I'm really fortunate to be part of a great team. We work hard at our jobs but we find lots of time every day to laugh and enjoy each other. They're all older than me and I feel like I gained a bunch of new aunties or older sisters who have guided me along the way."
One of the things Tuli has learned while working at UHA is that wellness is about more than just working out — it's also about being healthy mentally, emotionally and spiritually. "When I was young I was really fit physically, but maybe not so much mentally and spiritually," admits Tuli. "You have to take a holistic approach to wellness, and that's why I've taken up athletic coaching and that's what I bring to it — to try to instill that philosophy of whole well-being in the kids of my community."
Spiritual wellness is an integral part of Tuli's life.
Serving His Community
As an adult, Tuli continues to take his responsibilities seriously — only now those responsibilities extend beyond his family to embrace the community as a whole. Between his ongoing role as the basketball coach (now in his 7th year) and sometimes track & field and volleyball coach at his alma mater Campbell, a stint on the Neighborhood Board, and support for other youth programs, Tuli is a well-known figure in his Ewa Beach community. "I'm very familiar with a lot of our community members, and I try my best to support the families and the kids here, to the point where they call me 'Mayor Tuli,'" he says with a laugh.
Looking back, it's been of life of steady and positive progress for Tuli. "In my life I've been really fortunate. I've been around a lot of great people and have learned a lot from them — family, friends, teachers and co-workers. I think I've taken a little bit of each person along with me, and that is why I am the way I am today."