Erika Engle

A small Hawaii nonprofit
to make others see green

Hawaii Literacy will be the envy of all the nonprofits next year. It has been selected to receive a year's worth of free advertising and public relations services from Ad2 Honolulu, itself a nonprofit organization of advertising professionals aged 32 and younger. The campaign is estimated to be worth $500,000.

Hawaii Literacy is, coincidentally, 32 years old and therefore, old enough to be a household name -- but it isn't.

That's where the Ad2 pro bono campaign comes in.

"We are going to put together a fully integrated marketing campaign to include logo redesign; a public relations campaign; advertising on television, radio and in print; and Web design," said Dana Lehman, public service committee chairwoman.

Hawaii Literacy has been awarded the 2004 pro bono public service campaign by Ad2 Honolulu, an organization of advertising professionals age 32 and under. Hawaii Literacy staffers and Ad2 members met Friday at the Kuhio Park Terrace Family Service Center. Seated, from left: Sisi Maw Takaki, Jeela Ongley, Katy Chen, Dana Lehman. Standing: Sean Morris, Brent Shiratori, Gerard Bagood, Ryan Takaki.

Ad2 also does market research pre- and post-campaign to see what kind of work is cut out for them and then to determine how effective the campaign was.

The mission of Hawaii Literacy is to "help people gain knowledge and skills by providing literacy and lifelong learning services," according to its Web site at

It was established by Myrtle Emily Lee and Harry Chun Hoon.

"They devoted a tremendous amount of time to training other volunteers to become tutors to go and teach other elderly (residents)," said Katy Chen, Hawaii Literacy executive director.

Hawaii Literacy has five employees, including Chen, but it has hundreds of volunteer tutors.

Chen believes the campaign will convey two messages, "who we help and how people can help, and to reach those who need help.

"We see this as an opportunity to profile our organization as well as to highlight literacy as a broader general initiative."

A 1989 study showed that 19 percent of Hawaii adults are functionally illiterate or read and write at less than a 5th grade level. "That means being unable to read a medicine bottle or a bus schedule. They would not be able to do comparison shopping in the grocery store. Almost one of five were at that level."

Now it's more like one in four, Chen said.

Causes include learning disabilities, immigration from non-English-speaking countries, "really, a multitude of factors," she said.

Gerard Bagood shares a joke with Hawaii Literacy Executive Director Katy Chen. Bagood got by in life despite being unable to read or write until the age of 40, when he sought help from Hawaii Literacy. "If there were a degree for faking it, I'd have a masters degree," he said.

In previous years Hawaii Literacy's publicity efforts have included posters and bus cards, "but if you struggle with reading or writing you're not going to be looking at something like that," Chen said.

Using radio and television to reach out to those needing services makes sense to her.

A true believer in Hawaii Literacy is Gerard Bagood, a City and County refuse collector.

He's had many second-jobs over the years, but the application process was tricky.

He would take a "cheat sheet" that his wife prepared and laboriously copy the information to the application.

"What made me seek help was, I was tired of being ashamed that people would find out that I did not know how to spell or read or write," he said.

A conversation with his wife, who he describes as his biggest supporter, led them to Hawaii Literacy.

"It got me out of my comfort zone," but then an amazing thing happened, "my comfort zone started getting so big because I was starting to learn," said Bagood.

He leaves his biggest fan love notes in the mornings.

Working his City and side jobs, he made time for weekly classes with tutor Carol Chun.

Three and a half years after he started, "she said 'I think you should take classes at Leeward (Community College).' " Bagood was skeptical, but "next thing you know I'm registered at Leeward."

Still working, he plans to take a small credit load and figures when he retires in seven years he should have his bachelor's degree in social work.

He knows it's difficult for people to step forward and acknowledge their need for help.

"They need to move on, they just need to take that one step. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time," he said, echoing a lesson from his tutor.

The Ad2 campaign has always been sought after by nonprofits, but this year's interest was unprecedented.

"We received over 150 inquiries and over 100 applications, by far the most we've ever received," said Dana Lehman, public service committee chairwoman of Ad2. Hawaii chapters of huge, national nonprofits, "organizations that wouldn't normally need the funding" applied to receive the free campaign this year, an indication of the tough economy, she said.

The passion of the organization, however, is similar to those it serves.

"We try our best to help a charity that doesn't have the resources to help promote themselves," said Sean Morris, Ad2 co-president.

The screening committee was well aware that adult literacy has not been a forefront issue. Recent Hawaii SAT results added "social momentum," said Lehman.

Materials produced by Ad2 and donors such as production houses and printers, will appear in local media next year.

For the last two years, the Ad2 Honolulu campaign has won the top award at the national American Advertising Federation convention. Those involved would love a three-peat.

"The pressure's there but that's not the main reason we do this. Win or lose we're going to create a great campaign for Hawaii Literacy," said Jeela Ongley, Ad2 co-president.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at:


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