Learning experience: Willie K takes stage Saturday

Maui-grown guitar virtuoso Willie Kahaialii — better known as Willie K — returns to the Garden Isle Saturday for his third concert in as many years to raise funds for “Growing Our Own Teachers” on Kauai.

He’s a musician who, after decades of entertaining, should need no introduction.  

“He probably relates to the crowd better than any entertainer I’ve seen,” said GOOT President George Corrigan. “He puts on a wonderful, wonderful show.”

Over the years, Willie K has played with or opened for a long list of musical monsters, including B.B. King, Santana, Willie Nelson, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Jimmy Buffett.

In addition to his talent on the stage, Willie K has become known for his generosity — determined to help improve education on Kauai.

Corrigan said he was thrilled when Willie K agreed to do a benefit concert for the Kauai nonprofit.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me?’” he remembers of hearing the news. “It’s like a godsend.”

The Willie Wonderland Christmas Concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kauai Community College’s Performing Arts Center.

Founded in 2006, GOOT provides financial assistance to Kauai students so they can finish the final semester of their teaching degree.

Since its start, Corrigan said the organization has raised more than $200,000, which has allowed dozens of students to complete course work online through the University of Hawaii at Manoa while maintaining family and cultural ties to the island of Kauai.

In return for financial assistance, students pledge to teach on Kauai for a minimum of three years. Most of the time, however, they stay longer.

“Our mission is to give them financial assistance,” he said. “We just want you to get your degree and get into our schools.”

So far, GOOT has helped 52 students get their certification, representing about one out of four public elementary school classrooms on Kauai, according to Corrigan. Another seven students are scheduled to graduate this year and an additional six are right behind them, he said.

“Growing” and keeping teachers who have ties to the island and understand local values and customs is important, and Corrigan believes it is leading to improved test scores islandwide.

“We’re doing fairly well,” he said. “But the concert is so important for us.”

Tickets for the Willie Wonderland Christmas Concert are $35 for regular seating, $45 for premium seating and can be purchased online at www.growkauaiteachers.org. Doors open with a silent auction beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are also available at Kapaa Business Support Services, Ukulele Mele & Friends in Kalaheo, Savage Pearls in Hanalei, King Auto Center in Lihue, Pono Market in Kapaa.

For more information about Growing Our Own Teachers or to donate to the program, visit www.growkauaiteachers.org or call 634-9132.

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