Recently, I enjoyed a wonderfully refreshing week off from work. Actually, it was less than 24 hours; just an overnighter. But it was an overnighter in Hana.
My late husband used to say that spending a couple of nights in Hana was like taking a weeklong vacation. After each visit, we'd vow to go back more often, at least a couple of times a year. We never did, of course, and in the six and a half years since his passing, I've only been out there three times.
I spent the night in the 'Ohana Suite at the beautiful Bamboo Inn, exquisitely furnished and extremely comfortable. Hardwood flooring, kapa wall hangings, a bouquet of freshly cut red ginger, croissants and guava jelly in my breakfast basket; local-style luxury at its finest. I slept better that night than I have in weeks, with sweet, simple dreams of rain forests and waterfalls. And children, lots of happy children.
Oh, wait . . . that part was real. Earlier in the evening, I was in the Hana School cafeteria with over 200 Hana folks for the fifth of six sessions presented by Read Aloud America. Facilitators Joanne and Larry Laird had invited me to be a guest reader at the Read Aloud Program (RAP).
I've had the privilege and pleasure of doing several RAP sessions over the past few years, at Paia, Wailuku and Makawao elementary schools. This was the first series held in Hana; hopefully, it won't be the last.
The program focuses on family fun, encouraging folks to turn off technology and turn on to reading. After a high-energy opening segment with dance music, Frisbees and rapid-fire literary quizzes, the children break off into age-level groups to hear stories read by volunteers. Usually the readers are from the business community; in Hana, the high schoolers read to the younger students.
The adults remain in the suddenly silenced cafeteria for a brief lesson on how to create family time and encourage their children to read. Then they get to savor the joy of being read to themselves. On this night, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard's Maui liaison, Karey Kapoi, delivered a delightful reading of a chapter from "Always Wear Clean Underwear!" by Marc Gellman. I read "The Shark Man of Hana" by Auntie U'i Goldsberry, a captivating story presented in both English and 'olelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian translation by David Kahikina Del Rocco). Even Tita, my wisecracking, pidgin-speaking alter ego, got in the mix with a night marchers story of her own.
After the guest readers, the children are reunited with their parents and grandparents for dinner, usually pizza, but in Hana, the school's cafeteria manager, Steve Sinenci, volunteers his culinary services. Student and adult volunteers dished out bowl after bowl of pasta with turkey and veggies, and we all settled in for more fun and prizes. Many books are given away; Karey and I got to keep the ones we read aloud.
Every RAP session I've attended has been thoroughly delightful; this Hana session was even more rewarding. The Lairds work tirelessly to fulfill the Read Aloud mission of promoting literacy, bonding families and building communities of lifelong readers through the fun of reading aloud and being read to. They go further, tailoring the successful RAP format to each community they serve, as evidenced by their choice of presented readings (previous Hana guest readers included Maui playwright/author Wayne Moniz and Hawaiian renaissance man George Kahumoku Jr.).
The evaluations tell the story. Children who never before showed interest in books are now visiting the library and reading at home daily. Grateful parents wrote about the positive effects of RAP on their entire families. "This program has brought many families together. . . . 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."
Hana School principal Rick Paul was ecstatic. With a grade school enrollment of only 270, the average RAP session attendance was 265. Rick said he'd never seen anything like it.
Sadly, state funding has dwindled to the point where only one school per semester can take part, and even that is a struggle. The next lucky school is Lihikai, where Mayor Alan Arakawa will be a guest reader on March 13. Maybe the RAPpers can convince the mayor to help find some county money to keep the program alive.
I hope so, and I hope RAP returns to Hana next school year. I'll be ready for another week off by then.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.