Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - April 30, 2008
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May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, garlands of flowers everywhere ...

Remember singing these lyrics between hula performances and ono lunchtime specials during elementary school May Days? As the song goes, those flowers mean we should be happy and carefree. But for many keiki here, those days are a rarity.

“Imagine all the opportunities that you were given as a child,” Jeff “Rusty” Kent begins. After a weighted pause, he continues, “Once you understand how much you were given in life, and how huge that impact was upon your life, then you can begin to understand how much the cards are stacked against our kids.”

Through inspiration from the kindness of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Queen Liliuokalani, Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV, photographer/author Kent and photographer Minako Ishii (pictured above on the ends) paired up to establish the Lei Fund, a scholarship endowment meant to provide Hawaii’s underprivileged youths with an opportunity to pursue higher education.

“The Lei Fund’s goal is to never become a non-profit organization,” explains Kent. “It seeks only to become a scholarship endowment that is controlled by the Hawaii Community Foundation. We believe that it is the best way to get the most money donated directly into the kids’hands where they can use it.”

Another outlet that allows keiki to help themselves is their Kids’Pics program, an arts program Ishii and Kent teach to keiki ages 6-12 from the Maili Land transitional housing complex.

“By using a camera, our children can learn to see the world differently and explore their culture and environment,” Ishii explains. “Our program includes trips to museums, craft workshops, gardens and beaches. Through our program, children learn photography, art and crafts, social skills by meeting new people and spending time in a group, and to be responsible by completing their assignments.”

In recognition of May Day and the release of their book May Day/Lei Day (now available at bookstores statewide, visit for details), the duo are hosting a fundraising photo exhibition of works from six Kids’ Pics students and a special Waikiki Elementary School fifth-grader, Angel, during this week’s Honolulu First Friday Gallery Walk. The program,“FIRST FRIDAY: A ‘One Night Stand’ in the Chinatown Courtyard,” marks the debut of the children’s photographs of flowers and lei.

In addition, the young photogs have created greeting cards especially for May Day. Both artwork and cards will be on sale, with all proceeds donated to the Lei Fund. Fifty percent of royalties of May Day/Lei Day are also being donated to the fund.

The exhibit is free and open to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. May 2 at the Mendonca Building Courtyard (1126 Smith St.). For more information, visit

Pictured above, from left, front, Bernard, Rusty, Kayla, Elijah, Bryson and Minako, and back, Angel, Dwayne and Tanya.


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