After six years, a dream comes true

LIHU’E — For preschoolers, there is fun to be found even in packing materials.

Taj Vera Cruz, one of the students at ‘Ae Kamali’i Preschool at Lihue Christian Church, discovered that he could pop the bubble wrap that protected the poles of the new playground equipment being installed at the preschool Friday morning.

The installation is the culmination of over six years of hard work led by the pre-school director Monica Ka’auwai, her staff, and parent volunteers.

“This is a a big thing,” Ka’auwai said as she surveyed the unloading and unpacking of the project that will focus around a central climber and all-purpose unit.

Peripheral units include a fire truck, sand studio, water play area, swings and two diggers, and the play area will gain a new tricycle path.

“It’s our ideal playground,” Ka’auwai said. But, after surveying the amount of work that lay ahead of them on the Good Friday holiday, Ka’auwai mulled aloud, “Maybe we should have cut it back. But, no, it’s our dream, and this is our ideal playground.”

That dream came with a hefty price tag that Ka’auwai estimates will finalize in the neighborhood of about $70,000 including the in-kind contributions from parents, volunteers, and organizations.

“We couldn’t have done it without Goodfellow Brothers stepping forward,” Ka’auwai said. “They took care of demolition of the old ‘condemned’ structures, did the site work for the new equipment, and even got the concrete. Once the structure is erected, they’ll finish off everything by landscaping the area.”

Included in this phase of the installation, Ka’auwai said that Boy Scout Ronald Yamashita Jr. of Boy Scout Troop 148 will install an irrigation system for his Eagle Project.

“We were able to incorporate all of this into the project,” Ka’auwai said proudly.

About a dozen parents turned out Friday morning for the massive, concerted effort of having everything done by sunset, a demonstration of the long road that took six years to travel.

“We started out with small fund-raisers,” Ka’auwai explained. “But, soon, we realized that car washes just don’t cut it.”

There was a massive amount of financing that was barely dented by the fund-raising efforts of the preschool staff and parents.

Ka’auwai said that prompted them to start grant-writing, and through the generosity of organizations like Young Brothers, the Dora Isenberg Trust, the Castle Foundation, and Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), their dream inched forward.

“It was so very hard,” Ka’auwai said. As each day passed, it appeared that there was no end to the long road before them.

“We still need a little more money,” Ka’auwai said.

But, the equipment was ordered, and with the help of Shane Walsh of Play Hawaii, the first load of playground equipment arrived at the preschool from its storage at the Jim Rosa Roofing warehouses in Kapa’a.

Walsh piloted the truck, and as parents (and at least one grand-parent and one uncle) worked to unpack the equipment, Walsh returned to Kapa’a for another load.

Vera Cruz was one of several students who came with mom and dad to the big project, and Penni Taketa, one of the preschool staffers, said that, yesterday, there were no adults to spare for baby-sitting.

Instead, the baby sitter was the DVD player that kept the students occupied in one of the classrooms, save for the recess the students took to discover their element of fun in the growing pile of discarded packing material.

“It’s going to be nice,” Ka’auwai said. “And, it’s all supposed to be done by this evening.”

There are 38 preschools on the island, Ka’auwai said, and in her estimation, ‘Ae Kamali’i will be the first to have this new play-ground installed.

In January, ‘Ae Kamali’i earned accreditation from leaders of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the nation’s leading organization of early-childhood professionals.

“We couldn’t have gotten that accreditation if we didn’t have the playground plans in place,” Ka’auwai said.

“We’re proud to be accredited by NAEYC, and to be recognized for our commitment to reaching the highest professional standards,” Ka’auwai said.

“NAEYC accreditation lets families in our community know that children in our program are getting the best care and early-learning experiences.”

The mission of ‘Ae Kamali’i is a commitment to serve members of the community by providing quality education and child-care programs to children in preschool, she explained.

‘Ae Kamali’i leaders emphasize assisting students to develop and maintain positive self-esteem, socialization skills, independence, and a love for learning in a safe environment.

“We respond to community and family needs such as maintaining a close alignment to the (state) Department of Education school calendar, providing daily meals, and liberal hours of operation,” Ka’auwai said.

Currently, the preschool sponsored by leaders of Lihue Christian Church has an enrollment of 40 students, with a waiting list.

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