Kalani Teens Do Homework On Sharing
For the past nine years, a select group of Kalani High students has been learning the true meaning of Christmas through a special giving project to patients of Mental Health Kokua.
Special ed teacher Laurie Seu and a group of helpers collect toiletry items and trinkets from faculty, staff and from other DOE offices throughout the year, and as the holidays near, Seu and her class sort through the goods, checking their list once, then twice, to make sure that each item is in good, gift-able condition.
“ The students are responsible for sorting the items, categorizing them and separating items suitable for a man and for a woman,” she explained.
“After we bag (the items) we send it away for people with mental illness,” added student Mikey Young. “And mental illness people would be so happy because we give them Christmas gifts.”
Up until a year ago, Seu added, they had been putting them in shoeboxes and wrapping them. But with the economic downturn
came fewer donations, and suddenly a shoebox seemed cavernous.
“Keeping in mind that for many of the clients this is their only gift, we did not want to give them something that would be half full,” she explained. “So we incorporated art expression and decorated 200 gift bags with paint and stencils. We were able to fill the bags and even had trouble closing some. Now that’s a good sign.”
Kalani’s involvement began in 2001 when its Workplace Readiness class would go from the high school to Gail Ozawa’s Diamond Head office to assemble the shoeboxes for Mental Health Kokua, a nonprofit that helps people with mental illness and strives to eliminate the stigma attached to it.
In 2004, Ozawa asked if Seu could continue the project at the school with her special ed class.
“ This project now has become an avenue for the development of many other skills,” Seu said. “One for sure, it has helped increase student conversations and social skills with each other. They are building, comparing and contrasting skills without even knowing it in a fun and productive environment.”
“I learned it is nice to give gifts to people who don’t have gifts,” said student Taryn Wong.
They also learn kindness. On Dec. 9, the MHK staff visited the Kalani classroom to pick up the load of presents and answer questions about where the gifts were going, who would get them and why this may be the only gift they get.
“I believe the answers gave this project more meaning and purpose,” said Leu, who has taught at Kalani for 10 years.
“ The students now understand the idea of giving back to the community, and they recognize that there are others who
Laurie Seu (far right) joins Dale Higa, Justin Morita, Eric Young, Mikey Young, Alice Webb, Keilani Robinson and Taryn Wong Dec. 9 to donate gift bags to patients of Mental Health Kokua. Photo by Nathalie Walker, email@example.com.