CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Members of the Libarios family gathered at Leeward Community College. Pictured are, from left, Laurie, Ernest Jr. "Niki," Ernest and Herman Libarios. Ernest Libarios, also known as "Ernie," has been a counselor and professor at LCC for many years. His younger brother, Herman, is an outreach counselor for the extension education division for Kamehameha Schools. Another brother, Ron (not pictured), is a counselor for senior citizens on the Big Island. Ernie's elder son, Ernest Jr., known as "Niki," is a counselor at UH-Manoa. Niki's wife Laurie is a counselor at LCC.
Counselor Ernest Libarios' way of guiding students to succeed inspired family members to follow in his footsteps.
For almost 40 years Libarios, known as "Ernie," a counselor and professor at Leeward Community College, has advised generations of students at his counseling office and social science class where he teaches self development.
Libarios, 69, chuckles when he recalled a student who signed up for an academic session and said, "My grandmother said to see you."
Pages of classroom photos of his students adorn the walls of his office -- just a fraction of the thousands he has advised at the school as well as in the community. Many former students say they wouldn't be where they are today if it wasn't for his guidance.
The affable counselor also inspired those closest to him, his family. His son, Ernest Jr., known as "Niki," and daughter-in-law Laurie work as counselors in the University of Hawaii system. His two brothers Herman Jr. and Ron also work as counselors in the community.
While growing up, Niki observed the impact his father and late mother, Shirley, a teacher at Aiea High School, had on at-risk youth. "It was a natural fit to go into this profession," said Niki, an academic adviser at the UH-Manoa's College of Education who is pursuing a doctorate degree in higher education administration.
Libarios and his wife developed the program called Project RISE, which stands for Resourceful Individuals Seeking Education, to help at-risk and disadvantaged students with positive self-image and encourage them to seek higher education. The couple has received national awards for the program, which became a model for other programs to aid youth.
Niki praised his father, noting how he takes time to get to know each and every student. "It's a personal one-to-one relationship," his son said, adding that many view him as a father figure.
Niki's wife, Laurie, a counselor at Leeward Community College, met Libarios and his son in 1988 while working on campus as a peer counselor. Libarios' passion for his job inspired her to pursue counseling as a career. "You can tell instantaneously that he loves what he does because he cares so much about helping students, particularly minorities and those who are disadvantaged," she said.
Libarios' interest to help at-risk youth stemmed from his own childhood in Kona. Libarios is the third of five children to Herman-Hildo and Efifania Libarios, who immigrated from Visayas, the Philippines, to the Big Island in 1926 to harvest coffee.
As a teenager, Libarios was part of a neighborhood gang and was involved in fights, car thefts, drinking and gambling. A priest advised his parents to enroll him in college despite resistance from Libarios.
The serenity of St. Martin's College in Washington helped him transform and focus on education. Libarios later transferred to Chaminade University, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in history in 1961.
Entering the counseling field was sparked by a heated encounter with a job counselor. At a state employment agency, the counselor advised Libarios to work as a construction laborer, despite his college degree and previous managerial experience at Finance Factors. Infuriated, Libarios gave her an earful for prejudging him.
His Army Reserve commander offered him a position as a counselor with at-risk youth at the Hawaii Job Corps Center.
Libarios later worked as a counselor at an outreach center in Waianae and at Farrington High School before Leeward Community College. He obtained a master's degree in educational psychology from UH-Manoa.
His younger brother, Herman Jr., an outreach counselor at Kamehameha Schools, decided to go into the field after Libarios helped him break out of his rebellion. After Libarios left home for college, Herman continued to wreak havoc in his neighborhood as a gang leader. Their mother sent him to live with Libarios in Honolulu when he was 15. It was there that Herman said he observed his brother make a difference in young people's lives, counseling them at their home or offering those who were kicked out a place to stay.
For 30 years, Herman has been a counselor with the Na Hookama a Pauahi program, which provides college scholarships to native Hawaiians. Their other brother, Ron, is a counselor for senior citizens on the Big Island.
Herman said he is indebted to his brother, noting he would've ended up in prison had it not been for his unconditional support. "There's not enough money in the world to repay him for what he did," Herman said.