For 10 weeks, a dozen local residents are on a mission to raise as much money as possible. The reward? Being crowned the “Big Kahuna” by the Watauga County Habitat for Humanity on May 15. But the bigger reward will come months later.

“Twelve community members have stepped up and are raising money on behalf of our organization,” the Habitat for Humanity said on March 1. “The Kahuna that raises the most money will be crowned the Big Kahuna at the Don Ho-Down on May 15.”

“It’s our biggest fundraiser,” Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Alex Hooker said. “It’s pretty important to us, jut in terms of money raised. We spread our network out wide. We (have) individuals talking to friends and their sphere of influence to promote Habitat and (it) raises the most money of anything we do.”

Since 2015, the fundraising campaign has collectively raised over $175,000, according to Habitat for Humanity. Hooker said in the first year, the participants raised around $42,000, and last year was the record year with roughly $61,000 raised.

In the fifth edition of the Big Kahuna Campaign, 12 movers and shakers are currently raising every cent they can:

  • Tom McDonnell, IT specialist at Appalachian State University;
  • Emma Martin, seventh-grader at Hardin Park School;
  • Scott Williford, The Cardinal;
  • Kayla McDougle, president of Appalachian State’s Habitat for Humanity club;
  • Taylor Black, assistant manager at the Watauga Habitat for Humanity ReStore;
  • Jane Meyers, community celebrity;
  • Rob Lewis, ECRS;
  • Wayne Randall, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of N.C.;
  • Justin Hackler, Boone Realty;
  • Kate Payne, Lost Ridge Construction;
  • Ginny Morgan Walker, Mountain Times Publications; and
  • Adrian Tait, IONCON.

The ways to raise money are up to the imaginations of the participants, from mail-writing campaigns to parading around town in a “kahuna” outfit, according to Hooker.

The Don Ho-Down will take place May 15 at Appalachian Mountain Brewery starting at 5 p.m. For three hours, updates on the donation leaderboard will be provided up until the deadline of 8 p.m. After the results are tallied, the top five will be announced, with the Big Kahuna being crowned as champion.

“It’s fun, there’s a lot of maneuvering over the course of the last hour where people are trying to figure out who’s sandbagging or holding back so they can get in the top five,” Hooker said. “It gets pretty competitive and it’s fun to see that. And it all goes to a good cause.”

The cause, as it has been in previous years, will be to cover the costs of a house that’s under construction. This year, the house belongs to Kristina Fickling, a single mother of two and former business owner. The three-bedroom house in the GreenWood neighborhood is under construction with an anticipated completion time of the fall and move-in around Thanksgiving.

The home is being built as part of Habitat for Humanity’s affordable housing program. Applicants are selected based on their ability to pay an affordable mortgage and have a willingness to partner with Habitat in the construction process, regardless of background. Selected homeowners must attend educational workshops on topics such as financial literacy and home maintenance so they are well prepared to be successful homeowners.

“She’s been really involved and been a great partner and we’re happy to get her in her home as soon as possible,” Hooker said. “Anybody who gets to go out on the build site with her is a joy to work with.”

“I can’t even put it into words what this means,” Fickling said. “It means the world.”

Habitat build dates are every Wednesday and Saturday, with family and friends putting in the needed volunteer hours for construction. Fickling herself has currently put in 50 of the 250 equity hours and is hoping to get her family and friends to match the 250 hours.

Fickling said currently, the foundation is finished, despite being slowed down by the weather.

“I think this program is a really great hand-up in our community,” Fickling said. “I’m really grateful to everyone here that supported it. It really changes people’s lives and gives us something to work for instead of giving up when the help runs out and you’re stuck in between.”

For updates about the Big Kahuna campaign, visit For more information about the Fickling family home project, visit

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