Waimanalo Library a lifeline for residents, at-risk children


POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I have been a state worker with both the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii since 1986. For the past 15 years I've served on the small staff of the public and school library in Waimanalo, a place where I've long lived and whose people I've come to know well.

The library serves our small, isolated, rural community not unlike a “;cracker barrel”; gathering site. Residents assemble regularly in our meeting room to discuss and debate a wide range of civic, social and economic issues.

Although small, we have, in years past, facilitated a greater per capita circulation/staff ratio volume than most island libraries. Our book collection provides people with materials that help (for instance) to do home repairs, prepare family budgets or even help struggling couples understand how to become better parents. Our facility also provides classes for an Adult Learning Center that helps our neighbors to learn skills ranging from resume preparation and computer training to literacy.

During the week, and on Family Nights (after dinner), parents bring their kids in to participate in such activities as storytimes, or to engage in making Father's Day cards or even meeting Santa at Christmas. And each summer session the library offers a respite whereupon a popular Reading Program helps to foster life-long reading habits for the kids.

Perhaps most important of all is providing a sanctuary when the school lets out. Here the kids pour in to read books, do their homework, hone their computer skills or simply gather to socialize in a clean, safe environment. Many of our kids come from either two-income working couples or single-parent households where parents are unable to return home until late, following long drives home over the Pali. The library is a treasure that families have come to cherish as a buffer from anxiety about the risks that face their kids in today's world.

Our children at Waimanalo are almost entirely made up of Hawaiian, Filipino or Pacific immigrant stock; there are relatively few mainstream Asian or Caucasian faces among the student body. Each year our school is rated near the bottom of the bottom tier of scholastic achievement on the island. Additionally, Waimanalo is itself largely an economically depressed ag-land community, virtually devoid of businesses. The chronic challenges and trials for rural families here have long been great, yet pride remains strong.

Were our library to close, the majority of the kids would have nowhere to go but to unsupervised homes to perhaps watch TV or to hang out on the streets where they'd be open to the myriad influences of older teens.

In short, Waimanalo Library provides our community with the single most important refuge for the care and well-being of our local families. The bulk of kids we serve (ages 7 to 14 and beyond) are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives. For many, the loss of our facility would be devastating.

Indeed, it takes little imagination to see that writing off Waimanalo could only stifle a student's pursuits of ever-diminishing opportunities in the current climate. Historically, however, all economic downturns eventually correct themselves, as regularly as do the ebbs and flows in the pulse of a heart. As such, shutting our library's doors would not be unlike hastening the onset of cardiac arrest to the health and welfare of Waimanalo's ohana.

As the longest-serving employee on our staff and as one who has worked under a good number of branch managers over the years, I've come to know Waimanalo's families quite well; having watched children pass through their elementary-intermediate years, only to return as the parents of young students of their own. I've also seen them return from mainland colleges as well as return home from war. And each day I see in their faces just what their library means to them.

There are no bad kids here; not a one. Having watched a thousand kids pass on and out of Waimanalo, I've only seen kids at a delicate age who, although heavily straddled with great weights not of their own making, are hoping only to somehow survive childhood as best they can.



W. Thomas Hall lives and works in Waimanalo.