Planting a Seed to Read
By Don Robbins
Hawaii Literacy’s goal is to ensure that lack of literacy is no longer a burden to thousands of local keiki and adults. The organization aims to break down that barrier with its various resources that help people work toward goals like doing well in school, earning a diploma, finding and being competitive for living-wage jobs, or reading as a family.
A nonprofit agency, Hawaii Literacy works with adult learners across Oahu, Kauai, and the Kona side of Big Island, as well as more than 2,700 youth on Oahu who live in low-income housing or homeless sites. Furthermore, a Maui office is also being planned.
Hawaii Literacy began in 1971 when founders Harry Chun-Hoon and Myrtle Lee, who had been trained in the Laubach Literacy method, saw a need for similar services in the state. Looking forward to its 50th anniversary in 2021, over the decades Hawaii Literacy has grown from a small volunteer tutoring program with one employee to an agency with 20 employees on three islands providing adult, youth and family services to more than 3,000 people a year.
Currently at the helm of its fruitful operations are executive director Suzanne Skjold and president of the board Brandon Kurisu. Skjold noted that if someone is struggling to find a job, attain their GED, or reach another life goal because of limited reading or writing skills, Hawaii Literacy can help. Services are free, private and have flexible scheduling.
“Hawaii Literacy is able to provide free literacy services to thousands of local low-income keiki and adults today because of an incredible team of over 300 volunteers, and many donors and partners across the islands,” Skjold shared. “Our services and programs are uniquely structured to be accessible, welcoming and convenient for any learner seeking to improve their reading and writing,” Skjold said.
She added that Hawaii Literacy’s trained volunteer tutors meet with adult learners all across the islands, near their homes and on their schedule. There is no cost for tutoring help.
“We are committed to being there long-term and making a real difference for literacy needs in the communities where we work,” Skjold explained.
Hawaii Literacy’s staff and volunteers work every week, year-round, to provide the consistent and sustained support that is most effective for those learning to read and write. The agency helps to connect learners with free books, trained tutors, staff support, technology and other vital tools and resources. In addition, Hawaii Literacy’s community libraries also never charge late fees or lost fines, which can be cost-prohibitive to families living paycheck-to-paycheck and discourage families from borrowing books.
“Our programs use a research-based phonics approach, and are structured to be culturally relevant to the families we serve. Above all, we celebrate the courage adults have to take this step and believe that it’s never too late to learn to read!” Skjold declared.
Staff members, who primarily serve in direct service roles, work closely with adult and keiki learners, training and supporting community volunteers, and leading the activities, events, and structure of the program.
“In all roles, we seek candidates who share our belief in the importance of literacy, and who will truly do what it takes to see every person who comes through our doors succeed,” Skjold explained. That means taking initiative, going the extra mile to proactively offer help, and applying critical thinking skills and heart, she emphasized.
Hawaii Literacy is currently hiring, and with the growth of several programs, the agency expects to have future postings as well, according to Skjold.
She mentioned qualities of the work environment include a collaborative, fast-paced and mission-driven atmosphere, where excellent work can truly change lives.
Family literacy coordinator Terrie Togafau said, “I feel like each of my co-workers are working towards a most important goal to empower Hawaii’s children and adults with essential reading, writing and lifelong learning skills.”
Togafau also commented she enjoys engaging with the community, seeing the dedication from volunteers and the communities that are served, and feeling the support from agency leaders.
“I love working at Hawaii Literacy because I am able to contribute in a positive way and creatively when I work with children in their own personal pursuit to gain success in reading or in their own future,” Togafau declared.
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COMPANY: Hawaii Literacy
LOCATION: 245 N. Kukui St., No. 202, Honolulu
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Suzanne Skjold
BOARD PRESIDENT: Brandon Kurisu
BENEFITS: All employees working over 20 hours per week receive vacation, sick leave, paid training time and training events, medical/ dental/vision insurance, and long-term disability
PHOTOS COURTESY HAWAII LITERACY