KAPAA — Tuesday was a day of gratitude for Desaray and Paka Brown as they stood with their two sons on the stage at Kapaa Elementary School, welcoming Jeff Woytovich.
The Philadelphia man is head of the Children’s Alopecia Project, an organization that spreads messages of alopecia awareness and anti-bullying and is on-island after hearing from the Brown family, whose youngest son has alopecia.
Larry Brown is a fourth-grader at Kapaa Elementary, and since January 2018 has been living with the hair-loss, autoimmune disease.
Inviting Woytovich to the school was a way to broach the subject with Larry’s classmates as well as expand on an anti-bullying message for the students.
“You’re all original. Not one of you is alike,” Woytovich told the students during an hour-long assembly. “The only thing that matters is who you are. Are you kind, or are you not?”
Woytovich’s story starts with one of his four daughters, who was diagnosed with alopecia in kindergarten. She’s now a senior in college, studying fashion. His talk touched on the desire for parents to protect their children, the universal need to fit in with peers, and the universal truth that no two people are alike.
Instead of bullying people for their differences, celebrate those differences, he says.
After talking to the students, Woytovich brought the Brown ohana on the stage, and Desaray Brown said a few words of gratitude, thanking God that Woytovich was able to come and speak to the class. Woytovich will be spending the next week island-hopping and speaking at schools on Oahu and Maui.
“Yes, we’re all different, and that’s what makes us special,” Desaray Brown said to the kids just before they left for recess.
And as Larry mingled with the rest of his classmates, possessed by that same fourth-grader’s need to get outside and play, Woytovich took a few moments to chat with the Browns.
“If someone wants me to come speak, I say ‘yes,’” he said. “I do it full time now, but it’s not a job. I love doing it.”
Before he left, Woytovich donated a handful of books to the school library, books that talk about treating one another with kindness and understanding.
“All kids belong,” Woytovich said. “The way you look has nothing to do with who you are.”
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.