Sean Tarrant, Director of the Easter Seals Hawaii Autism Center

Easter Seals Hawaii is very respectful to its tradition of providing a vast range of exceptional services for children and adults diagnosed with disabilities or special needs and their families. It is also committed to evolve and to be responsive to its participants and to the changing needs of the community, so when it recognized a growing need for autism services in Hawaii it took the initiative to expand and grow the program.

In June 2013, Easter Seals Hawaii hired several new full time staff members who brought with them decades of experience in diagnostic and assessment services, in developing effective treatment plans and communication, and, perhaps most importantly, family member support, education, and training. Easter Seals Hawaii was very fortunate to hire Sean Tarrant as its director of autism services.

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Sean has worked for over 15 years within the field of developmental disabilities and applied behavior analysis (ABA), a scientifically validated approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment. While still pursuing his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1999, Sean began working in the field of ABA as a behavior therapist for adolescents and adults with severe problem behaviors. Since then, he has worked in multiple areas within the field of developmental disabilities and ABA including in-home therapy and parent training, consultation with public and charter schools, residential and center based therapy, and the ethical reduction of severe problem behaviors. Over the years, Sean has come to realize that one of the most important things a parent can do to achieve positive changes in behavior is to increase the level of communication with their child.

Many individuals diagnosed with autism are unable to communicate, which leads to challenging behavior. According to Sean, being able to ask your child what they want and how they feel, and know that they are able to tell you this is incredibly important.
The Easter Seals Hawaii Autism Center is committed to focusing on increasing the
level of communication and also utilizing the many techniques available for increasing functional behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. It provides complete and coordinated care throughout a child’s life to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior, and empower the individual to realize
his/her full potential.

Kauai Aquaponics Program

Kahiau, Easter Seals Hawaii’s service center in Waimea, Kauai, provides services to adults and children on the west side of the island. Part of the building serves as the Kauai Police Department Waimea sub-station. The police officers are great neighbors who have taken the time to get to know the program and Easter Seals Hawaii participants. We would like to thank Officer Damien Mandiola for generously offering to teach Easter Seals Hawaii participants how to build and maintain an aquaponic system. He donated the entire system as well as 40 golden tilapia fish food and starter plants.

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Officer Damien worked alongside our participants to construct the system and teach our participants and staff how to maintain the right acidity levels for optimal plant growth. Families of participants supported this project by donating more starter plants and fish. Officer Damien continues to oversee this project. As with anything new, there are ups and downs and he has taught our participants to evaluate and overcome obstacles. There were moths and aphids and some of the fish died, but ultimately it was a huge success! All of the vegetables are now used to prepare the daily lunches. The participants learn reading, writing and team work to maintain and operate the aquaponic system. It is also part of a curriculum on nutrition, healthy living, and making healthy choices The system has proven to be a wonderful vehicle for teaching, and an opportunity to expand this system at the service center in Kapaa.

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Tackling Adversity By Helping Others

In one moment, Tisha Takazawa’s life would never be the same. After suffering a brain injury from a car accident at the age of 21, she was forced to re-learn everything from writing, to walking, to even talking. She lost a considerable amount of fine motor skills and the entire right side of her body became weak. She now lives with new physical challenges on a daily basis, but Tisha does not complain. She’s rather humbled by the opportunity to genuinely understand and deeply empathize with those she serves. Tisha has been working with people with disabilities and special needs at Easter Seals Hawaii for over 11 years.
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As the Adult Day Health Program Manager in Hilo, Tisha wakes up every morning with gratitude in her thoughts and happiness in her heart: “Before starting with ESH, I wanted something where I could make more of a meaningful impact. I wanted a change, I felt a calling, and now I’ve fallen in love with the work that I do.” She has been instrumental in the growth of the program, having had started with just five participants to now helping serve over 82. Adult Day Services, intended to provide adults with stimulating environments, opportunities, and experiences through community-based settings and activities, promotes substantial growth among participants and the community alike:
“Our job is to make the community aware, to open their eyes a little at a time, and to show them that people with disabilities are just people, like you and me.”

Tisha recalled a time when a particular gym owner in the community only addressed the staff member accompanying two participants and questioned: “so what can’t they do?” His blatant disregard for the two individuals was not of malicious intent; however, its impact was nevertheless felt. After about five succeeding interactions, the very first thing the owner did was address the participants directly, look at their faces, shake their hands, and ask for their names. This type of transformation exemplifies why Tisha believes the work Easter Seals Hawaii does is so important. Without it, bridging that gap – getting people with disabilities integrated, understood, and accepted within the community – seems unattainable.

Tisha is driven, however, to make a positive change. She embodies that which Easter Seals Hawaii aspires to do every day: change lives with Aloha. After experiencing such discouragement and despair on a personal level, she realized that despite all she had lost, in the end, she really had everything to gain – and remains thankful for all that she has:
“I look forward to coming to work, seeing the participants every day, enjoying their progress and happiness. It’s amazing what people can accomplish when they’re given the chance. [The participants] teach us all a lesson about what’s really important in life. And for that reason, Easter Seals Hawaii is just a good place to be.”

Dennis Maher’s Unbreakable Commitment

Dennis C. Maher has spent an entire lifetime living with a family member with an intellectual disability. His brother, now 41, has Down syndrome, cannot speak, and is legally deaf and blind. His son, 12, has autism. Many people would find a reason to complain, but what truly sets Dennis apart is his unbreakable commitment to his family, his community, and everyone with a disability.

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Dennis is the director of facilities and security at Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk, and one of his responsibilities is looking for ways to improve and streamline the day-to-day operations. The hotel has a green program focused on recycling, and he realized that finding a charity to benefit from the 5c recyclables would be a win-win for both the hotel and the charity – it would save the hotel valuable resources if another entity took over the program, and the charity would benefit from the regular revenue stream. Since his brother had been engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii for many years he made one phone call which, as it turned out, was all he needed to do to start the program which now provides many recipients the opportunity to be employed and engaged with the community.

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Working closely with representatives from Easter Seals Hawaii he has grown the program to extend far beyond the Trump Hotel and include other condos in the area. For Dennis, his passion and devotion to assisting people with intellectual disabilities has been a lifelong commitment. When he was in high school he worked in a summer camp for people with disabilities. Now, in addition to being engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii, he was a coach for several sports through Special Olympics and is also on the board of Autism Hawaii. As with many true heroes he sees the best in others, and is the first to give the credit to other people he has known who also give their time freely. He noted, “I have a child with a disability, I have a brother with a disability. I have a reason to do this. That is where it comes from. I give a lot more credit to those without a family member with a disability, those are the real heroes. The real heroes are the people that do not have a reason other than a big heart. I give them a heck of a lot more credit than I give myself.”

Roxann Kehus: Employment Services

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible.” –Audrey Hepburn

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So many of us float through our day-to-day lives forgetting the inherent simplicity of possibility: add a space, an apostrophe, and a rightfully earned, capitalized “I” and impossible transforms into I’m possible.

Roxann Kehus, the Statewide Employment Services Manager for Easter Seals Hawaii, speaks of this truth as it relates to the groundbreaking work she and the Easter Seals team are undertaking. Through years of work with non-profit organizations, she has become quite familiar with the impossible-to-possible transformation. These exciting possibilities center around the vision of a new program that, after many years of intent, is now being implemented: employment services. This program aims to foster true community integration and support of self. Focusing on individual strengths, interests, gifts, and talents as opposed to weaknesses and deficits, Easter Seals Employment Services strives to make every individual an equally respected and independent member of society.

Discovery Process
With the help of a practice known as Discovery, individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to experience, or discover, the workplace. They observe different jobs, speak to different people, and authentically establish an area of interest through experiment and/or experience to successfully facilitate job placement. Discovery is a valuable process, one in which Roxann believes in fully due to past experiences with it. As an employment consultant in Seattle, WA, Roxann worked with a high school graduate who had a Discovery meeting with family, friends, and neighbors. His interest in shredding papers caught the attention of one neighbor in particular, who turned out to be a local school principle. She offered him a job shredding old report cards and crafted a beneficial situation for everyone involved. The young man now had a job doing something he enjoyed, the school was getting rid of unnecessary documents, and the students were able to assist him, increasing their own awareness and interaction with people with disabilities. It eventually led to further work opportunities when the local city parks department requested his paper-shredding assistance as well. This epitomizes the beauty of the practice: one Discovery meeting can present unexpected and previously unimagined job opportunities, spawning chances for people with disabilities to actively contribute to and participate in society.

Through employment services (including the Discovery program) individuals not only expand their network of people and supporters – otherwise known as social capital – but also build character. They develop a greater sense of self, are better prepared to make decisions, and have a means by which to improve their current quality of life. A few job seekers on the Big Island are a testament to this. After working on pre-employment skill building (interview etiquette, question-response preparation, etc.), practice interviews exposed an air of confidence within each individual. They were able to communicate an answer, explain themselves, express their own thoughts, interests, and strengths, and appropriately partake in a conversational setting. This type of equality for all persons, in all environments, all of the time sets valuable precedence. And just as a bike tire need only an occasional flick to stay in motion, so too the employment services program need only a nudge to perpetuate its forward motion.

Roxann, therefore, sees herself in a supportive role – inspiring communication, teamwork, and learning throughout each of the programs on the various islands. She believes in possibilities: “We’re changing a system that’s been in place for many, many years but know that our vision is leading us in the right direction. I trust the process and know it’ll look and turn out in a way that’s greater than I even imagined in the first place.”

Easter Seals Hawaii TV Special on KFVE

Commemorating the 70th anniversary this year, Easter Seals Hawaii marks this special anniversary with a one hour prime time television special airing June 24 at 7:00 pm- 8:00 pm on KFVE.  This very special documentary film directed by award-winning filmmaker, Edgy Lee, highlights the diversity of families and the vast array of needs served by Easter Seals Hawaii over the past 70 years.  Historical highlights and personal reflections span decades. They include stories from community supporters like Don Robbs, Danny Kaleikini, Ed Sultan and others.

            

Narrated by Danny Kaleikini, the Easter Seals 70th Anniversary TV Special “Easter Seals Hawaii: Serving Hawaii’s Families for 70 Years” is produced by Filmworks Pacific and written by Marc Cohen & Edgy Lee.  The documentary film takes viewers into a unique and different world, a reality that redefines “ohana” to include not only family members and close friends, but the dedicated staff and many volunteers whose every day jobs are to provide life-enhancing services to people with disabilities and special needs so they may  achieve independent fulfilling lives.

Grandpa was pals with Ingram Stainback, who was the governor at the time during World War II.  They would have a cup of coffee every now and then and Governor Stainback would lament that public schools couldn’t handle crippled children, and the crippled children would end up staying in homes and families would take care of them and they never really learned how to interact in the community.

My grandfather would go home later that day and share this with his wife, my grandmother, and they came up with an idea of a school that teaches these children how to interact in society, how to stand up and walk, get them equipment that they might need and they would find braces or crutches for them and other resources.  The idea was that when you graduate from this school, you will be able to go into mainstream public school.  My grandmother became passionate about this and put together a group of people who had a lot of of energy and desire to help the community.  Through their caring and visionary efforts, The Sultan School for Early Intervention which later became Easter Seals Hawaii, was founded.   Ed Sultan III, President and Ceo, Na Hoku, Inc.

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MARK YOUR CALENDARS and TUNE IN!

WHAT:    “Easter Seals Hawaii: Serving Hawaii’s Families for 70 Years”
WHEN:    Friday, June 24, 2016; 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
WHERE:  Aired on KFVE

Easter Seals Hawaii Announces New Board Leadership

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Mike Hulser, CEO and Principle Consultant of BizMD, was elected  as the new chair of Easter Seals Hawaii Board of Directors, succeeding Brian Stewart.

Mike Hulser was born in New York and raised in Virginia, where he attended college at Virginia Tech and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. Degree in Economics.

Mike then embarked on a “Fortune 50” career, ultimately achieving the Financial Officer level.

In the late 1990s, Mike entered the Turnaround/Crisis Management Consulting industry, where the industry named him the “Top Turnaround Manager in the United States for 2000.”

In late 2000, Mike came to Hawaii on a consulting engagement as the Interim Chief Financial Officer and Controller of Hawaiian Airlines.

Mike and his wife, Sandy, decided to remain in Hawaii and established his current practice, The Biz MD, helping small and medium size businesses improve their Financial Performance – Profitability and Cash Flow.

In 2009, the U.S. Small Business Administration named The Biz MD the “Financial Services Champion” for the City and County of Honolulu. Additionally, several of Mike’s client businesses have won awards for Industry Leadership, Growth, Profitability and Workplace Quality.

MAHALO Mike for devoting your time, talent, and aloha to Easter Seals Hawaii!