Teacher unites keiki, Kuakini kupuna

Posted on: Thursday, July 10, 2003

By Mary Kaye Ritz

Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

Hale Pulama Mau resident Richard Iwata enjoys the company of, from left, Kacie Ann Mau, Cody Kuge, Jenna Paranada and Aaron Yoshida.

Photo courtesy of Linda Kato


The inscription inside the book "Caring with Aloha" reads:


"We dedicate this book to our 'Grandmas and Grandpas' whom we have grown to love as we shared songs, dance, and play at Hale Pulama Mau, Kuakini Geriatric Care."


Flip through the pages and you see Linda Kato's Nu'uanu Elementary students stroking the hands of elderly patients, laughing with abandon and reaching out in the way only kindergartners can to bridge the isolation that debilitating age can bring.


The book includes photos from the visits, artwork and comments from the children.


"I tried to make our grandmas smile," wrote little Brandi Keahi on Page 6. "I talked to them. I said, 'How are you?' I touched grandma's hand and it was soft."


It's the third year Kato's kindergartners have adopted the elderly at Kuakini.


The "Caring with Aloha" book is a recent addition to the project. This year, 42 copies of the 30-page hardbound book were self-published and each member of the class had the chance to buy one. Grant money paid for another 10 books, which will be given to Kuakini, the school library and used to document the program.


On another page, Tianna Arrell drew a picture of one of the group's balloon volleyball games. An occupant of a "geri-chair" &emdash; a wheelchair set like a recliner, since many patients can't sit upright &emdash; is shown with a grin as wide as Tianna's own.


Tianna's mother, Melani Arrell, has only high praise for the project, spearheaded by Kato, Tianna's kindergarten teacher, and for the good work they do.


Tianna has become more sympathetic to the elderly, the Nu'uanu mother said. "Today, we saw an elderly person and she said, 'I miss Miss Kato and the old people.' "


Arrell will be there when children from the class gather with their own families Saturday at Ala Moana Beach Park to autograph their books and relive the memories, though their "adopted" Kuakini grandparents won't be able to join them.


However, don't mistake absence for apathy.


The residents "really look forward to seeing the children," said Jayne Desamito, a therapeutic recreation coordinator who works with both Nu'uanu and Cathedral schools, and is looking for other groups, as well. "You could see it in their faces. ... A lot of them made a really good connection."


Four times a year, Kato's kids make a trip to Kuakini to entertain the residents. Afterward, they play balloon volleyball, do "parachute play," and go fishing with magnets and paperclips.


"These are all supposedly exercises, but our kids think it's just play," said Kato.


Desamito calls this a win-win: The children bring their liveliness to the kupuna, and the kupuna help the children overcome a fear of the aged.


"Their energy, laughter, eagerness to shake their hands, play with them &emdash; (for our residents), it's not who it is," she said. "They won't remember them by their names, but just having the energy of the children around (helps)."


Both she and Kato agree that during the first of the school's regular visits, kindergartners are hesitant. But by the last, they greet the ones they've become close to with hugs.


"It's really wonderful to watch," said Desamito. "The faces on our residents ... well, it's a good feeling."

   Want to help?


For more information on Kuakini inter-generational programs:


Where: Hale Pulama Mau, Kuakini Geriatric Care


Contact: Jayne Desamito, 547-9534Kuakini keeps its copies of the books in its recreation hall, pulling them out for "show and tell," Desamito said. Besides the visits and the bound reminder, however, Kato's class also sends banners bedecked with the children's artwork for the different holiday seasons, with messages like "We love you" and "We care about you" written on them.


"It brightens up our hallways," Desamito said.


You'd think being a kindergarten teacher and mother of a still-at-home teenage daughter would keep Kato busy enough, but to make this project go, she spends her free time drumming up grants to pay for equipment for this project and for "banner bags," the kits used to create a banner for those hospitalized at Ronald McDonald House in Manoa, Kapi'olani, Shriners, Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, as well as Kuakini.


The banner bags actually kindled the entire "Caring with Aloha" project.


About five years ago, Kato's son had a friend who was injured in a freak accident &emdash; he had dived into shallow water in Kane'ohe Bay and suffered spinal injuries.


Her son, now grown, came back from a visit to the hospital saddened.


"You know, Mom, no one comes to visit," he told her.


"Do you want my schoolkids to make a banner for his room?" she asked.


Her son thought that might cheer up his pal, and, indeed, it did. From that came a "banner bag" compassion project: Students check out a bag full of supplies (paper, paint, glitter glue, markers, etc.) to make a banner for all sort of reasons. Happy birthday to someone in a care facility. Happy last chemo day.


Soon after, Kato approached Kuakini to see if they wanted some banners. Desamito asked if they'd like to bring students over, too, and from that, the intergenerational project was born.


The banners and intergenerational projects have won five grants in five years, including the national Learn and Serve America mini-grant. Kato, who last month was chosen one of 17 Everyday Hero teachers, has received an Aloha Care grant to continue the projects next year.


"It's important to teach service learning to our children, because it them teaches character, citizenship and volunteerism," Kato said. "The ultimate goal is to create a better community."