Employment Services – Nalu’s Story

Nalu Kauwe-Simeona began working for Pizza Hut Hawaii (Puainako Shopping Center location), in Hilo, Hawaii on March 31, 2016. Nalu’s journey towards seeking competitive employment began with Discovery – a comprehensive process that focuses on identifying the job seeker’s abilities, strengths, values, hobbies and interests towards employment. Through Discovery, Nalu’s love for Pizza inspired him to someday work for Pizza Hut Hawaii.

In support of Nalu’s career goals, Easter Seals Hawaii Employment Services partnered with Restaurant General Manager Michelle Moku to coordinate a situational assessment – with intentions to match Nalu’s vocational abilities to the employers’ specific needs. Nalu’s positive work ethic was the perfect fit for cleaning the dining area after lunch operations. A customized position was created and Nalu was soon hired as an official crew member of Pizza Hut Hawaii. His responsibilities include filling the ice dispenser machine, wiping tables and windows, scrubbing the window sills, cleaning the buffet line and sneeze guards and sweeping the floors.Pizzahut1.jpg

Through employment, Nalu’s independence has sky-rocketed. Since his official hiring date in March, Nalu needed just two months of hands-on job coaching services to maximize his independence at work, with emphasis on building relationships with his co-workers. Today, he works independently, without the need of an outside job coach and enjoys the natural support he receives from his supervisor and co-workers. “We enjoy having Nalu as part of the team; he arrives to work with a great attitude and looks forward to working every day,” said co-worker Cassi Kaneda, who monitors Nalu’s job performance.

In addition, Nalu learned how to independently catch a taxi to work from our ADH program, walk safely home after work, budget his earnings, and spend his hard earned money. Nalu’s dream is to someday save enough money to purchase his very own Ford Mustang GT.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nalu’s success story continues to inspire many. “This is just the beginning,” said Lahaina Olsen-Kuroda, Senior Employment Associate, who worked closely with Nalu throughout the entire employment process. “Everyone, regardless of the disability, has a unique set of skills that can benefit a business.   The key is finding the right fit for both the job seeker and the employer.” Nalu’s employment success opens the door for the next job seeker and helps educate businesses on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. Michelle Moku, said it best when initially approached on the idea of hiring people with disabilities, “Everybody deserves an opportunity to work!”

Special thanks to Pizza Hut Hawaii for their partnership and commitment in building a better community!

Nalu Pizza Hut

Michelle Moku, Nalu Kauwe-Simeona, & Cassi Kaneda

Santa’s New Sled – A United Airlines Jet!

Santa came to town in a BIG jet, thanks to United Airlines who threw a festive and exciting holiday party for 25 of our youth participants and their parents.photo1        photo

Presents were placed under the tree with care – something unique and personalized for each child, in the United Airlines Hanger off of Lagoon Dr.  Each child was given a passport to have stamped at activity stations as they travelled through the hanger decorated for the holidays with a North Pole, Frozen theme.  Coloring, puzzle books, ornament making/crafts, and a photo booth to take pictures with Santa rounded out the festivities.

Elsa from Frozen and several elves/ helpers joined the party, and ukulele notes rose through the air in this “only in Hawaii” experience!

The big surprise of the morning was Santa arriving on a huge Airliner that drove up to the hanger. Excitement built as the kids heard the plane getting closer and then the hanger doors opened to reveal the plane and Santa exiting the cockpit!

After each child visited with Santa they were given lunch and beverages and a large gift bag with several presents inside. United Airlines employees selected and purchased individual, personalized gifts for each child according to their age and interests!

Our kids loved Santa and the plane and the parents were all very thankful for the personalized touches and all the hard work United Airlines put into the party!  This was an event to remember!

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!



ESH participants give back to the community through Hawaii Meals on Wheels

HMOW Leighton and Sherilyn

ESH participant Leighton and Program Assistant Sherilyn Yap assemble lunches and dinners for those receiving services from Meals on Wheels.

On a humid Tuesday morning at Easter Seals Hawaii’s Adult Day Health program in Ewa, participants Leighton, Martin, Stanton, Cheyanne and Amanda are doing sign language exercises while they wait for the Hawaii Meals on Wheels van to arrive. These participants assemble meals for the elderly and those with disabilities every Tuesday morning and look forward to it every week. Once the van arrives, they sort through fruit, bread, entrees, and package each meal for the six houses on their delivery list.


The participants have a sense of teamwork and enjoy delivering the meals to various homes in the community. “They have been doing this for over a decade, before I started 13 years ago,” said Program Assistant Sherilyn Yap. The routine is an activity provides a sense of volunteerism.

HMOW Leighton

The participants that deliver these meals to others who are elderly or with disabilities have earned the respect and admiration by the ESH staff and families. ESH President & CEO Christopher Blanchard said, “Our participants are contributing members of our communities. They constantly demonstrate their compassion and ability to help others.”

HMOW logo

Working as a family at ESH

Text: Brandi Salas / Photos: Kaydee Johannsen

The staff at Easter Seals Hawaii (ESH) is not only made up of qualified professionals, but warm-hearted, caring individuals with a story of their own. Two ladies, Program Assistant, Liza Ganiron, and Activities Coordinator, Arlene Garo, share their experiences at ESH.


ESH participant Joshua enjoys the social interaction and skills training he receives at the Ewa Adult Day Health Program.

At ESH’s Ewa Adult Day Health program on Oahu, the atmosphere is a bit different from the other Adult Day Health programs; it’s quiet, calming and serene, well-suited to the needs of non-verbal participants with developmental disabilities. The program is split into two houses. One is for medium functioning non-verbal participants; the second is for low-functioning non-verbal participants that need extra care and support. This program also supports those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The atmosphere requires a large amount of patience, skill and expertise to help participants achieve their goals and encourage independence.


ESH’s Ewa Adult Day Health provides many activities and opportunities for adult participants in addition to skills training.

Among the staff working in small groups or one-on-one with participants, you’ll recognize Program Assistant, Liza Ganiron, by her laugh and sweet voice. Liza moved to Oahu in 1988 from her hometown Laoag City in the Philippines to be with her husband and family. She has been a Program Assistant at ESH for three years and she fell in love with the organization immediately. Her main responsibility is to support and transition participants between tasks and activities while helping them achieve their personal level of independence. When it comes to 25-year-old ESH participant, Joshua, Liza uses her most gentle voice and lights up when Joshua smiles back at her. “I teach him signs, feed him and care for him,” said Liza, “Josh is like my son.”


“Working here in Ewa is like being in a second home,” said Program Assistant Liza Ganiron.

Also working with Joshua and other non-verbal participants is ESH Activities Coordinator, Arlene Garo.  Arlene was born and raised in Oahu and has worked for ESH for more than 13 years. Arlene has a strong medical background as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and worked in a hospital. Arlene soon realized that she needed a job that didn’t require demanding hours but was also fulfilling and involved an area she was already familiar with. “I have a close cousin who had a developmental disability. I already have that background,” she said. Arlene has grown in her position at ESH. “I learned how to plan the days, work with staff and ask participants what they like to do.”


Activities Coordinator Arlene Garo said, “If you could spend one day and experience the daily activities and special moments at our program, you will soon understand that we treat our participants as if they were our own family.”

As an Activities Coordinator, Arlene is responsible for keeping participants active and at their top level. This includes: monitoring participants, organizing activities (involving horticulture, cooking, communicating with pictures, using sensory experiences, etc.) and providing emotional support for parents or caregivers. “It is a fun job to be creative, learn and make people happy. Also, communication with parents is vital,” said Arlene. But she also adds that it takes a lot of dedication, “It’s not about money, it’s about love. My participants are the reason why I choose to stay with Easter Seals Hawaii.”

Joshua’s parents, Penny and Jim Ellsworth are happy with their son’s progress while attending the program at ESH. “We appreciate the Easter Seals Hawaii’s staff. They are genuinely concerned with respect to the families they serve. When they work with Joshua, they are consistent in all they do with him. We have seen such an advance in his everyday living skills. We have seen such maturity with him. They are very caring and giving.”


The ESH Ewa Adult Day Health (ADH) program sits on two historic plantation home sites on Renton Road. It is one of three ADH programs offered on Oahu that offer participants a full-range of activities to choose from: daily excursions, art programs, volunteering in the community, computer classes with the aid of assistive technology, learning money skills, weekly hula classes, etc.   

ESH Maui participants enjoy adaptive kayaking


ESH Maui participants paddle through Olowalu.

What better way to enjoy the summer with some sun and paddling? Several of our Easter Seals Hawaii participants in Maui attended an adaptive kayak event last Friday, which was sponsored by Maui’s Department of Parks and Recreation.


ESH Maui participant Chris is an avid swimmer, but kayaking is a completely new experience for him.

One excited participant, Chris, who is in his mid-20’s, had a blast paddling through beautiful Olowalu. ESH staff member, Veronica encouraged and initiated this fun opportunity for Chris and his fellow participants. His mother, Ruka, said, “I am so proud and happy for what he did and want to share with everybody! Veronica and I hugged and later on, I was almost in tears in happiness. Little things make me happy and the big guy, Chris, tried something new.”

ESH Maui County Manager Roxann Kehus was delighted to hear that participants can take part in water sports during the summer. She said, “I saw a video of Chris using the kayak paddle to power himself across the water. He really seemed to be enjoying himself.” Roxann also added that similar activities like kayaking experience adds some recreation to the adult programs they offer. “While safety is extremely important, it is also very important to look at activities like this with a mindset of ‘how to make it work’ so people can participate. We always want to look at what people can do.”


Kayak program staff and ESH staff assist participants with securing themselves on the kayaks.

This particular adaptive kayaking program was launched in 2009 and is geared towards children and young adults with disabilities. The Department of Parks and Recreation offers this program to give youth a chance to take part in therapeutic ocean sports. The program provides kayaks, life vests, glove-adapted paddles, specialized straps, side stabilizers and more.

The next adventure for Chris and other participants will be adaptive canoeing. Stay tuned!

Our Mahalo Reception last Friday

How do we feel when one of our former adult participants shares her personal story about working towards that first paycheck? When a beautiful hula performance mesmerizes the entire crowd? Or how about when we are blindsided by a surprise donation from unexpected donors? Chicken skin and big grins! That’s what we feel.

We’re still recovering from our excitement from Friday’s Mahalo Reception at Nico’s at Pier 38. It was an event to remember because we had many of our supportive and enthusiastic donors and contributors that have helped us in 2012 in attendance. This was our way of sending a big “mahalo” to all those who have contributed to Easter Seals Hawaii’s success within the last year.

ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-116

Emcee Rick Hamada shares his passion for Easter Seals Hawaii.

Our program was headed by our emcee Rick Hamada, our golf tournament director and long-time supporter. In addition to the delicious food, heartfelt speakers and excellent décor, we would like to share a few of our favorite moments from our event.

ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-046

Katie O’Brien, Grace Caraang, Christie Moorman and Keilani Robinson dancing hula for our attendees.

Adult participants Katie O’Brien, Christie Moorman, Grace Caraang and Keilani Robinson gave the most beautiful and graceful hula performance. Delicately dressed in colorful aloha print, they danced to “Hawaiian Lullaby” and Katie happily graced us with her hula solo performance of “These Islands.” The entire crowd was enamored by the passion and talent of these wonderful women.

ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-139

The crowd claps and signs “Bravo” after the graceful hula performance.

A Touch of Gold performed Motown hits that got the crowd to their feet and all of our adult participants enjoyed themselves on the dance floor. They were a very interactive and entertaining act. Chairman of the Easter Seals Hawaii Board of Directors, Dick Sears, said, “I do not remember the last time I was so truly inspired and entertained to ‘belly laugh’ status simultaneously so well.” In addition, our very own Honolulu Service Center Adult Day Health participants, Daniel Bacon and Peter Quintanilla, may just become the sixth and seventh members of the soulful singing group. They picked up their choreography in seconds! We have such talented participants.

ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-059

A Touch of Gold entertains guests and participants Daniel Bacon and Peter Quintanilla.

ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-060

Peter Quintanilla gets down with the Motown songs.

During the program, we showed a video of a few of our current and former participants, including Keilani Robinson, a young woman who now works as a hostess at the local favorite Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha in Aina Haina. After the video, Keilani presented Easter Seals Hawaii with part of her very first paycheck! We are so grateful that Keilani wants to give back to our Early Intervention and adult programs.

ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-149

Keilani Robinson claps after the feature video on her experience with Easter Seals Hawaii. 

Lastly, as the crowd trickled out and the Nico’s staff cleaned up, the banquet manager walked up to Iwalani and explained that the wait staff were so moved by Keilani’s story that they donated all of their cash tips (a total of $53) to ESH! They said our event was very moving and they wanted to support our organization.

Mahalo to all of our participants, board members, committee members, staff and volunteers for making this a magical event happen.

For more updates on Easter Seals Hawaii, please follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook!


ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-142ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-185ESH(Mahalo Reception)-3-22-2013-154

Easter Seals Hawaii CEO Chris Blanchard, Board Chair Dick Sears and VP Iwalani Dayton thank those who have supported ESH.