Autism Services: Katie Thomas’ Story

For Kathleen Thomas, nothing in the world is better than seeing her daughter, Katie, smile. Diagnosed with autism at a very early age it is imperative to Katie’s health and wellbeing that her life be as stable and consistent as possible, and Kathleen has dedicated her life to making this a reality. Fortunately for her Easter Seals Hawaii has been a true partner and a source of support for many years, and has been there to help her guide Katie through some of life’s greatest challenges.


When Katie was in the third grade, she enrolled in the Pacific Autistic Center (PAC), where she thrived. A few years later the director of PAC sold the school to Easter Seals Hawaii. When Kathleen explained why it was so important to remain engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii, she said she knew Katie would move seamlessly into adulthood under the umbrella of this established organization. Kathleen said: “I know Katie will thrive here, and be loved, and be safe, and be a part of the community, and be valued, which is all that matters.”

katie familysm

2014 was an emotionally difficult time for Kathleen and This was also an emotionally difficult time for the family. Katie’s father was diagnosed with cancer, and his greatest fear was for Katie and her future. Fortunately before he passed away, he was comforted in the knowledge that Easter Seals Hawaii’s trained staff would know exactly how to handle this emotional period of the passing of her father. To help her Easter Seals Hawaii therapists put together a photo book with photos of Katie’s father and their family, routinely walked her through what had occurred, and helped her understand why her father would not be returning home.

When Kathleen looks to the future for Katie, her dreams for her daughter are pure and simple. She noted, “I want Katie to be loved, to be valued, to have a purpose and a joy every day of her life. I want her to have a job, be happy, and be healthy. That is what I want, for Katie to have friends and a place that feels like home.”

Easter Seals Hawaii strives to make Kathleen’s dreams a reality for Katie.

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.

Sean Terrant Photo

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.

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 April 24 at 6:30p- 7:30p 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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WHAT:    “Easter Seals Hawaii: Serving Hawaii’s Families for 70 Years”
WHEN:    Sunday, April 24, 2016; 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
WHERE:  Aired on KFVE

Maile Ogata raises $3,660 for Easter Seals Hawaii


Easter Seals Hawaii presented Maile Ogata with the Dwane Brenneman Humanitarian Award.

The 10th Annual Maile’s Dream family fun event raised $3,660.00 for Easter Seals Hawaii on March 8th at Washington Middle School. The event featured live entertainment, games, crafts, activities and a silent auction to benefit the East Sultan Early Intervention Program for Easter Seals Hawaii (ESH). Coordinated by students and faculty at Washington Middle School, the event encourages children and individuals of all ages to accept those who are different and to celebrate those differences with one another.


Maile poses with her award with students and faculty from Washington Middle School and staff from Easter Seals Hawaii.

The awareness fair also honored its young founder, 14-year-old Maile Ogata, who started the event ten years ago as a way to encourage acceptance amongst young children, youth and adults. Maile was born with Apert’s syndrome, a genetic disorder that can lead to facial and limb anomalies. It was “Maile’s Dream” to teach acceptance of those who are different while giving back to a program at Easter Seals Hawaii that has helped her when she was younger. Maile’s mother, Cindy Ogata, said, “Easter Seals’ Early Intervention Program was there to support us with physical, occupational, speech therapy and a gifted teacher to help with cognitive delays…our objective of the event is to raise awareness and encourage acceptance.”

Maile performed a song she wrote called “I am a child,” moments before she was presented with an award from ESH’s President & CEO Christopher E. Blanchard. “It impresses me how much Maile, at 14-years-old, has done for Hawaii’s children and adults with developmental disabilities or special needs in the last ten years. Since she started her event, she raised more than $30,000 for Easter Seals Hawaii. She set a terrific example for the Washington Middle School students who have taken up her cause. We encourage others to recognize the impact Maile and the WMS students have had on our organization and the community.”

MD2Maile and her mom Cindy with East Sultan EI Program Manager Dawn Williams, Sultan EI Program Manager Luke Kusumoto, President & CEO Chris Blanchard and VP of Development Iwalani Dayton. 

Mahalo Maile!



Five Questions with…Hector Venegas

by Rick Hamada, ESH Community Relations Director

Welcome to our inaugural edition of “Five Questions with….”- a new feature that will focus in the people and personalities of Easter Seals Hawaii. We are blessed to begin our series with a gentleman who has served our community well in so many ways, but who also shares a remarkable story of faith, hope and comfort as a member of our Easter Seals Hawaii ohana. You may already know of Hector from a wonderful song that has become synonymous with Hawaii. You can take a listen here. But, for now, please, enjoy our “Five Questions with… Mr. Hector Venegas.”

Hector, can you tell us a little about yourself, where are you originally from?
Rick, I was born in Mexico 1939, lived there till 1956, when I moved to Kansas City Missouri, where I graduated from South East High School, attended Kansas City Junior College for one year and transferred to University of Hawaii in 1961, and have resided in Hawaii since.

Who were your parents and please share some thoughts about them?

My father, Jose Hernandez, now deceased was a Promotor, Business Entrepreneur, who I respected but parted ways with at a very early age! My Mother, Alicia Venegas Lopez, now 94 and living in Chicago, Illinois, was my role model and guiding light in my formative years.

You have such a cosmopolitan, professional background. Can you tell us about it?

  • 2006, I retired from the working force, but my career spanned started in 1961, while attending the University of Hawaii.
  • 1961, I was in the Food and Beverage Department of the Hilton Hawaiian Village as: Waiter, Restaurants and Bar Manager.
  • 1963, I left the hospitality industry, to go in the Phonograph Record Distribution with various local companies as: Salesman, Sales Manager, Marketing and Promotion Manager.
    1970, I Moved to the Advertising industry as: Account Representative, Advertising Agency Manager.
  • 1973, I formed and owned KristAnn Advertising
  • 1976, I started Hector Venegas Enterprises, it dealt with promotions and marketing of entertainment, fashion, restaurants, etc.
  • 1984, I became a consultant to the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii’s Military Affairs Council, a non-profit group working on behalf of the defense industry as a liaison element bridging the military and civilian communities, in Hawaii.  A few years later, I became the Director and provided services to the private sector by assisting them with marketing their sales of goods and services to Hawaii based Department of Defense contracting offices in Hawaii.  I also implemented special events such as military appreciation programs, and lobbied for military funding, to be spent in Hawaii, at national levels, including the Pentagon and Washington D.C.
  • 1997, I reactivated my marketing, public relations, and promotions firm; by assisting Hawaii’s small businesses with the potential and desire to sell their goods and services to local government offices: counties, state, federal. My mission was to help small businesses, suppliers, contractors, and vendors who want to learn the fundamentals of Government contracting. The workshops took them step-by-step through the language, key players, and procedures of doing business with the government, and provide attendees information, which can be applied immediately to government contracting.  Subjects ranged from the Basics of Contracting, to fundamentals or advanced Electronic Commerce/Electronic Data Interchange, etc.

You are responsible for one of the most iconic songs in all of Hawaii. Tell us about the inspiration and process in writing “Hawaiian Lullaby.”

My second daughter Krista was born in May of 1970, at seven weeks old, she caught a cold and from that contracted Bacterial Meningitis and faced death. She was in intensive care for several weeks at the Old Children’s Hospital and slowly began to recover, but as result of the illness and multiple seizures, we were told that she suffered mild brain damaged. For me, this situation became extremely difficult and mentally challenging ao deal with.  In writing, I implored my maker not to take her, for she had not seen this world, nor had she sinned.  After intensive and tedious help from caring doctors, and neurologist; she survived.  A year later, when things subsided, I visited my early writings, and changed the negative language to a positive, it was self-healing.  At the time, I was an agent for Mr. Peter Moon.  When he read the prose, he wanted to write music to it and change the title from “Manoa Lullaby” to “Hawaiian Lullaby”, I said yes and the rest is history.

Hawaiian Lullaby performed by the Makaha Sons

How did your relationship with Easter Seals Hawaii begin and what is your involvement today?

After two eye operations and multiple medical visits, Krista grew up happily a mild challenged person. She attended Special Education classes at Liliuokalani and Wilson elementary schools, Kaimuki Middle School and graduated from Kaimuki High School.
While attending high school my wife Sharon, who has always been behind Krista’s life every step of the way, learned about Easter Seals. Krista initially came to Easter Seals as a participant in the after school summer programs.  Ms. Linda Guess, who was running the youth services program, liked Krista and when she graduated from high school, created a job for her.  She has been with Easter Seals well over 20 years now.  Easter Seals is Krista’s life, she lives and breathes Easter Seals and can hardly wait to go to work every day. Our family is very happy with that.

Hector, what does Easter Seals Hawaii meant o you and what message would you like to share with the rest of our community?

Easter Seals has given our family hope, faith that is priceless!

When we are faced with harsh reality and life look dismal, prayer and the help from our friends, we will help us get through.

Thank you, Hector, for taking the time to tell us about your story and to highlight the wonderful accomplishments of your daughter, Krista. We’ll have another edition of “Five Questions with….” before you know it. If there is someone on the Easter Seals Team or someone who is part of the ESH Ohana, please let me know. I can be reached via email at .

Mahalo to Waiakea High School in Hilo!


On Saturday, February 22nd, students and faculty at Waikea High School (WHS) gathered at their annual Variety (Talent) Show to present a $1,000 check to Easter Seals Hawaii’s Hilo Early Intervention Program. The students, dressed in various outfits, showcased their talents and presented the check to ESH Hilo EI’s Social Worker, Cheryl Jackson.

The WHS students and faculty raised the money through their annual event called Santa’s Workshop on December 5th, 2013. Students from their feeder elementary schools, Waiakea Waena and Waiakea Elementary were invited to purchase new or gently-used items for their family and friends as holiday gifts.

Mahalo to our friends at Waiakea High School, you all have such big hearts! 

Easter Seals Hawaii and Matson Navigation Company celebrate 60 years of partnership

17 Shezden, mom and auntyMatson throws an annual Christmas party and provides presents for each Easter Seals Hawaii participant.

Easter Seals Hawaii (ESH) celebrated 60 years of a strong, supportive partnership with Matson Navigation Company at the Manoa Recreation Center on Friday, Dec. 13. The celebration was a combination of Matson’s annual Christmas party for ESH’s children participants with disabilities, special needs or developmental delays and recognition of their long relationship with the organization.


For the parents who could not attend, grandparents were more than happy to take part the festivities.

A total of 55 families attended the event. Easter Seals Hawaii’s families enjoyed presents, crafts, fun activities, a Christmas tree, cake, food and refreshments, all provided by Matson. The celebration featured photos with Santa and a drawing for the Christmas tree for a lucky family from ESH.

6 Thompson Family

The Thompson family enjoyed the festive treats, crafts and photos with Santa.

“We cannot thank Matson Navigation Company enough for 60 years of bringing the Christmas spirit to Easter Seals Hawaii,” said ESH President and CEO Christopher Blanchard. “The party is so popular that families we support ask about the Matson Christmas party almost as soon as they join our programs. On behalf of the entire Easter Seals Hawaii ohana, I thank Matson for the many things they do to support us and the rest of the community throughout the year.”

 52Left to right: ESH Board Chair Dick Sears, Matson’s CEO Matthew Cox, Matson’s VP of Sales Gary Nakamatsu, ESH Director of Early Intervention Charlene Robles, ESH CEO Chris Blanchard, ESH CFO Mikio Sato and Matson’s  Senior VP and ESH Board Member Vic Angoco. 

Matson began sponsoring Christmas parties for the children and families served by Easter Seals Hawaii since 1953. The party was originally held at the dock on the day of the first shipment of Christmas trees arrived in Hawaii. Since then, Matson employees have continued to support the organization through donations, volunteerism and participating in ESH’s signature fundraisers in the past six decades, such as the Annual Golf Classic and the Gingerbread Family Festival.

66Our Easter Seals Hawaii staff and thank Matson Navigation Company for the joy they bring each year to our participants and their families!

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