Retired California educators Larry and Joanne Laird settled on Maui seven years ago with an intent to reach young people and serve a community they say has welcomed them with open arms.
"Retirement is making choices with what you do with your time and energy," 65-year-old Larry Laird explained. He and his 62-year-old wife have chosen to support schoolchildren by promoting literacy and leadership for students from kindergarten through grade 12.
As members of the Kihei-Sunrise Rotary, the Lairds practice "service above self" with annual donations of dictionaries to local elementary schools, operating and expanding the Read Aloud America program on Maui and coordinating the annual Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp program sponsored by all of Maui's Rotary clubs.
The dictionary donations are a program of all Rotary clubs on Maui, but the Lairds add to their club's gift a three-part ethics lesson to South Maui 2nd-graders.
"I really feel like it's our obligation to give. . . . I feel it in my heart," Joanne Laird said.
Her husband added: "We live in a culture that is appreciative. They like to give and I love that style."
In the federally funded Read Aloud America program, the Lairds supported the first Maui program a few years ago through their Rotary experience with one school, Kihei Elementary, encouraging both parents and children to read on a regular basis.
In 2010, Joanne Laird became a parent presenter trainer with her husband, working to expand the program to seven schools and opening a full-time satellite office that houses thousands of books.
"This is a very rewarding and very fun experience," said Larry Laird, a book enthusiast.
"It's just an extension of what we love doing, reading," Joanne Laird said.
The youth leadership camps the couple run are held once a year in January. The camp hosts 72 new students plus 18 returnees chosen to volunteer and practice their own leadership skills.
Larry Laird said he and his wife work as a team, but they rely on other volunteers to make things happen.
"We're just two people," he said. "There's a lot of support behind what we do. The leadership classes are probably the only thing we can do alone. Everything else requires other people to chip in and care enough to help."
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.