Public school Web site is bridge to private aid


POSTED: Monday, February 23, 2009

Kalihi Elementary would love some Dr. Seuss books and coloring pencils. Waikiki School is looking for Legos, liquid soap and computer memory sticks. Aiea Elementary needs a volunteer to teach PE.






School YearAmount
2007-2008. $2.9 million
2006-2007$2.5 million
2005-2006$2.1 million
2004-2005$2.5 million
2003-2004$2.5 million
2002-2003$2.0 million
2001-2002$1.8 million
2000-2001$2.1 million


Figures include only gifts to public schools worth $500 or more that were reported to the state Department of Education. Source: Department of Education


The list of needs at Hawaii's public schools runs the gamut, and it's only going to grow, with budget cuts of up to 20 percent looming in the next school year.

Now there's an easy way to help, whether you're a parent, retiree, college student, business or community group. A new interactive Web site links donors and volunteers with schools and their specific needs—with just a few key strokes.

“;It's kind of like a Match.com, except it's for schools or people who want to assist schools,”; said Judy Nagasako, who oversees corporate and community partnerships for the public schools. “;We think it will save people a lot of time. It's much more efficient.”;

The matchmaking Web site, helphawaiischools.com, started as a pilot project with four schools in 2006. This year, 42 public schools statewide signed up online in hopes of connecting with the broader community, not just their traditional base of students' families.

“;It's definitely great,”; said Bonnie Tabor, principal of Waikiki School, one of the first schools to try out the site. “;It's brought us a lot of donations from people that we would not have been able to reach in any other way.”;

Every classroom at her school has a new printer, bought with a $3,000 donation from Data House. The royal blue benches outside the kindergarten classes are actually pews that were donated by Kapahulu Bible Church. Twice a week, an associate pastor volunteers his time to teach PE, a subject often dropped at public schools when budgets are tight.




To Donate

        » On the Net: www.helphawaiischools.com

» To donate or volunteer at a public school not listed on the Web site, contact the school or the Volunteers and Partners Program at 586-3687 or 586-3686, or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


» Donations by individuals and businesses to public schools in Hawaii are deductible on state and federal tax forms.


Instead of playing phone tag or traipsing around to different campuses, would-be donors can find out in minutes where they can help with the Web site. They can search for their favorite school or scroll through all the posted requests to see who might need those Legos their children have outgrown. Or they can offer something the school hadn't thought of, like the pews at Waikiki School.

“;There are a whole lot of untapped resources out there,”; said Kristie Fukuzono, parent-community coordinator at Moanalua Middle, another pilot school. “;The need has to be made known.”;

Her school has received poster boards from Macy's, stationery supplies from Conrad Enterprises and volunteer help from the Navy and BAE Systems, its business partner.

Companies can limit their Web site offers to specific schools and not worry about being inundated with requests from around the state. If their finances are squeezed, they can offer goods, mentoring, internships and career speakers.

“;It puts at their fingertips control of what they want to do, when they want to do it and with whom,”; Nagasako said. “;The schools are directly in control of that from their side, and so is the volunteer or donor. It's a two-way process.”;

Some requests on the Web site are small but meaningful. Kalihi Elementary's counselor is requesting board games including Peacetown and Escape from Anger Island. Waimalu Elementary is looking for floor fans, digital cameras and rubber slippers.

The Web site itself is the result of a public-private partnership. It grew out of an effort by state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, Education Committee chairman, to connect schools with community groups and businesses. BAE Systems helped create the database, working with software developer Samaritan Technologies and the Department of Education.

The software does more than make individual matches. Each school can build a database of volunteers, all subject to background checks. The computer also tracks hours and donations, concrete information that businesses, military services and schools want.

The system does require a lot of upfront effort. School staff must be trained to use the site, and data entry can be time-consuming.

“;At the beginning it's really rough and it takes a lot of time and energy, but now I can see the worth of it,”; said Fukuzono, who now has a database of 300 volunteers for Moanalua Middle to draw upon.

Schools with transient populations can reach further into the community for help using the Web site. Middle schools, in particular, have a tough time building lasting relationships with families, since their student population turns over completely every three years.

“;Sometimes there's one energetic, charismatic parent, and they leave or they follow the children up to the next level, and the school is starting from scratch all over again,”; Nagasako said. “;The principals were asking, 'How do I build capacity that stays and is not dependent on one person?'”;

Radford High School is looking forward to a long-term relationship with its new neighbor, Target Corp., which connected with the school through helphawaiischools.com. Even before opening its Salt Lake store, employees showed up en masse to paint the school, and the company also donated a fridge, according to Vice Principal Robert Frey.

Only 42 of the state's 257 public schools are on the Web site, but others can be reached directly or through the Volunteers and Partners Program. The state would like to sign up more schools online, but funding for training and technical support is secure only for this year, Nagasako said.

The Web site is not well known, but it has the potential to take off, said Ryan Ward, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer coordinator at Aiea Elementary. His school is seeking reading tutors, a volunteer to teach PE once a week and donations to get students to Camp Erdman.

“;I really think that helphawaiischools.com will be a great success eventually, but it will take time,”; Ward said. “;It's like Craigslist, which took time but is now hugely successful. It was very small and very local, and now it's all over.”;