My monthlong birthday celebration continues today with a Hana overnight getaway. Actually, I’m driving over for a volunteer gig, but the way I see it, any time spent in Hana is vacation time. And this particular assignment is pure fun.
The Read Aloud Program brings parents and children together at host schools for evenings of family fun aimed at promoting literacy and motivating folks of all ages to read. Joanne and Larry Laird are the enthusiastic RAPpers who have encouraged thousands of Maui families to put aside their electronic devices, at least temporarily, and pick up a book. On RAP nights, school cafeterias are jampacked with families enjoying games, dinner, prizes and, of course, reading and being read to.
As tonight’s guest presenter, I’ll read to the parents from one of my favorite books before introducing them to my pidgin-speaking alter ego, Tita, who will tell a story or two. Like every child who attends, I’ll go home with a brand-new book.
This will be my third RAP session at Hana High and Elementary School. Over the past few years, the Lairds have kindly invited me to participate at Paia, Wailuku, Makawao and Lihikai elementary schools, and next week, I’ll be at Puu Kukui Elementary for the first time. But RAPping in Hana is as sweetly unique as the town itself.
For one thing, RAP is designed for elementary and middle schools, but in Hana, the high school is also involved. Rather than recruiting adults as volunteer readers, the Lairds train Hana High students to read to their younger siblings and neighbors.
Instead of the usual pizza dinner featured at other RAPs, Hana families enjoy a hearty meal prepared by Hana School cafeteria manager Steve Sinenci and his extended ohana, all of whom volunteer their time and efforts.
Written comments from participating parents are testimony to RAP’s success in Hana. “When you live in isolated and remote communities, we are so limited as to the resources. Having this program come out to Hana has been a true blessing for both the keiki and adults.”
It’s been a blessing for me, too, and I’m willing to bet that other guest presenters, including Maui author Wayne Moniz and slack key master George Kahumoku Jr., have experienced the same rush of fulfillment and gratitude.
My first joyful interaction with the students and community of Hana was over a dozen years ago, when Willie K and I visited as part of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s outreach program. Willie conducted a music workshop for the high-schoolers while I led a performance arts session with the younger kids. After lunch, we performed for the entire student body, kindergarten through 12th grade, in the school gymnasium. Tita told Hawaiian legends and spread the word of pidgin pride, and Willie and his band blew everyone away with a lively concert. That night, the MACC sponsored a free show for an overflow crowd at Helene Hall.
During that public performance, I was surprised to see Kris Kristofferson in the audience. After the show, he humbly approached me, introduced himself (ha!) and thanked me for coming to Hana. He said his son had come home from school that afternoon and told him, “Dad, you have to go see this show tonight. You’re going to like this storyteller lady.” I don’t remember what I said in response; I probably stammered out a feeble mahalo, at least, I hope I did. I’d had a mad crush on the man ever since I was a teenager and saw him in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” at the old Maui Theater.
I’ve relived that thrilling encounter with Kris Kristofferson many times since, but it was a young local girl who provided the most gratifying moment of that memorable trip. After the school performance, this little girl, probably a 2nd- or 3rd-grader, hugged me and said, “My brothers always tease me and say I’m a tita. Now I’m gonna go home and tell them, ‘that’s a GOOD thing!’ “
I think it is. And a tita who likes to read, well, that’s even better.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.