CONCORD -- Growing up in Hawaii was an immeasurable experience for Avis Connolly.
"It was special being that we only have one season and we spend much of our time outside climbing trees, picking guavas and mangos and eating them while sitting on the tree," said Connolly. "We did a lot of outdoor activities such as crabbing, going to the beach for picnics."
Connolly said she and friends and family would go hiking to gather lei-making materials such as lehua (a myrtle tree), and pala'a (mountain ferns), both plants native to Hawaii.
So when she was hired as the new Concord Senior Center manager 12 years ago, just when the seniors were treated to a new facility and there was a need to expand services, Connolly thought about a way to raise funds to benefit senior programs.
And what better way than to bring a "taste of the Aloha spirit" to Concord?
Hawaiian Fusion, now in its 12th year, benefits the senior center programs, such as its scholarship program for qualifying Concord seniors unable to afford beneficial activities like fitness, health and dance classes, and other enriching educational and specialized instructional classes and day trips, as well as computer classes. The fundraiser also helps support the special events, including the health fair and volunteer recognition luncheon, Connolly said.
"We'd like to keep our seniors active and independent," she said.
The event's "taste of Hawaii" includes an authentic Hawaiian buffet dinner and concert with recording artist Nathan Aweau. Bay Area Hawaiian musician Steven Espaniolo will also be performing. The dinner includes island favorites such as kalua pork, laulau, teriyaki chicken, lomi salmon, and poi.
For Connolly, preparing for Hawaiian Fusion means a reunion with her family who travel from Hawaii to help with decorating and preparing for the luau.
"Having family come is what it's all about -- the Aloha Spirit and spending time together even if it's work," she said. "My family gathers all the ti leaves, luau leaves, poi and flowers from friends and family."
And everyone in Hawaii is family, even if you're not related. They call you "Auntie" and "Uncle" or "Sister," and "Brother,"she said.
"My mom's been coming to help and would get to know some of the senior volunteers," Connolly said. "They look forward to seeing her and she looks forward to seeing them."
Among the pre-event activities Connolly's family participates in with the seniors include making leis of fresh flowers from Hawaii.
Eizo Kobayashi, a former senior club president who emcees the event, said Hawaiian Fusion wouldn't be possible without the yearly help and support of Connolly's family.
"She's introduced the Aloha spirit to Concord," said Kobayashi. "All flowers are hand-picked for the occasion. The family comes to make a big arrangement for the event. They come over at their expense. It's really become a family affair."
He said that the event has always been a sellout, and that it averages about 400 attending every year.
"That's thanks to Avis' family for their support," Kobayashi said.
The seniors are also grateful to local businesses and the City Council for their annual support of the event; Crowne Plaza Hotel in Concord for providing accommodations for the out-of-town performers, and a host of people donating items for the auction.
The event will also feature a Hawaiian boutique where those attending, and members of the public, can purchase island artwork by local and Pacific Islander artists, as well as craft items, leis, clothing and snacks.
Connolly and Kobayashi said that everyone will feel as though they're part of one big, happy family.
"It feels like being back home having my family come to Concord each year," Connolly said. "This is giving from the heart, not because you have to but because you want to. It's the friendliness, the caring and loving and laid-back environment you feel once you step off the plane. You can feel the 'Aloha' with everyone you encounter."
WHAT: Hawaiian Fusion
WHEN: Sept. 6; Hawaiian boutique and no-host bar open at 4:30 p.m.; dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Show is scheduled at 7:45 p.m.
WHERE: Centre Concord, 5298 Clayton Road, Concord
COST: $48 per person
INFORMATION: For tickets and information, call 925- 671-3320 ext. 1, or visit www.cityofconcord.org/hawaiianfusion