Books for kids: Kona Stories working to get educational materials out-of-school at-risk students

  • Linda Takai reads to Neilani Glenn at the Feed and Read program at the Homes at Ulu Wini on Tuesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

With schools shut down, a local book store is spearheading an effort to get educational materials to at-risk students forced to stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Brenda McConnell — co-owner of Kona Stories, which opened in Kailua-Kona in 2006 and temporarily closed its physical doors effective Wednesday — is coordinating an Education Support Drive to bring books and other educational materials to at-risk students during the closure of public and public charter schools across Hawaii.

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“I don’t want anyone to get behind,” McConnell said. “The truth of the matter is we’re going to be lucky if these kids get back to school this year.”

Public and public charter schools, and most private schools, closed mid-month following spring break leaving thousands of students out of the classroom across the state. This week, the Department of Education announced schools will remain closed through April 30 with plans to provide parents with information about “enrichment opportunities” for their children.

“We are certainly targeting the kids that the parents would have a hard time buying those kinds of educational things,” said McConnell, also noting that while many materials are available online, the physical first reader or workbook is sometimes better for pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade.

McConnell ordered the first shipment of books and educational materials on Monday through publishers Scholastic and Workman, and hopes to receive them early next week to begin distribution. Among the first to get materials will be youth at Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini.

“I drive by that complex all the time, so that was the first that came to my brain,” she said, noting the drive will also benefit the Friends of the Children of West Hawaii. McConnell has reached out to other contacts — including those at schools like Kealakehe, Honaunau and Konawaena — and hopes to reach more keiki as well.

Toni Symons, service program director at Ulu Wini, said the materials will assist 205 children ranging in age from 0 to 18 who reside at Ulu Wini, many of whom take part in the monthly Feed and Read program that’s been put on hold. The materials will be distributed with other items to each household.

“We’re so excited,” Symons said Wednesday. “It’s so thoughtful. Our kids are going to love it when they get those books.”

Though McConnell said she’ll take credit for the idea for the drive, she’s quick to declare it wasn’t her idea, but rather that of a couple who travel between Northern California and the Big Island, with hopes to retire here one day.

“They called me up and they said, ‘We want to support our local community in Hawaii and we know the schools are at risk, and we are going to send you $500 if you can buy workbooks and get them in the right hands.’ And, I’m like, ‘sure, I can do that,’” McConnell recounted. “That’s how it started. I was like ‘gee whiz there’s probably a lot of people that would love to support this.’”

Within two days, another $1,000 was raised, and the first order was put in Monday. McConnell added the book store is adding to the coffer and she’s also trying to get the publishers to contribute to the effort, as well.

Donations can be made several ways, including by calling the book store at 324-0350 or visiting www.konastories.com/education-support-drive and using a credit card or mailing a check payable to Kona Stories to PO Box 390924, Keauhou, HI 96739.

The preferable method is a physical check, she said, “because there’s no processing fees.”

“As money comes in, we’re just going to buy as much workbooks, flash cards, any kind of education stuff that we can and then we’re going to get it out there,” McConnell said. “I’m super excited.”

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Donations are not tax deductible at this time, but the book store is exploring the idea of establishing a 501(c)(3).

“Hopefully, this can continue and this will be a program that we can grow on for a long time,” she said. “But, certainly the goal is to get them through this school year and wherever it goes after that even better.”

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