In elementary and middle school, the day Scholastic leaflets would circulate into our classrooms was a special occasion. It was an exciting addition to the usual hum-drum pulse of the school day, and my brother and I would run home with order forms and eagerly figure out which books we wanted to ask our parents to buy. My brother always chose something around the topic of super heroes or science fiction projects, while I was more into the Baby-Sitter’s Club or Fear Street novels.
Eventually, we’d get a check from our parents and turn in an envelope at school in the next few days, whenever it was due. Then, everyone – me, my classmates, parents, and teachers – would totally forget about it. It was the ‘80s, there was no order tracking, and things moved a lot slower.
A season or so later, the Scholastic books would finally arrive at school. It was like a little book fair. That moment was always fun and something to look forward to – except for one thing: Not everyone got books, and even as a kid, that part of the experience definitely registered as being sad. Basically, it sucked to receive a book and see that your classmate got nothing.
Thankfully for today’s kids, the Book Trust provides a critical replacement for this dated 1980s model, and guarantees that all children in the classroom will receive a brand new book of their choice that they can take home. On Saturday, March 23, Maui residents will have a chance to support this important mission while enjoying a one-of-a-kind event at the 7th Annual Book Trust Extravaganza, happening at the Four Seasons Resort. This year’s theme is “The Odyssey,” a perfectly Greek-inspired homage to the importance of education in Hawai‘i’s public schools.
What is The Book Trust?
The Book Trust is a nationwide organization that was founded on Maui in 2001. Since then, its scope of service has grown to be quite large. In fact, during the 2017-2018 school year, Book Trust delivered over 900,000 books to approximately 55,000 children in 21 states.
As you can imagine, Book Trust programs are invaluable not only to the children who receive the books, but to families that do not have the means to provide reading materials and literary resources to their children. These programs are thankfully implemented by teachers in a selection of Title I schools in Hawai‘i, schools that are federally recognized for their large concentration of low-income students.
Book Trust offers the same programs in all schools it services, and is designed to make a direct impact on each student. The organization has a partnership with Scholastic Reading Club, allowing Hawai‘i’s keiki to choose from a variety of books to increase literacy and foster learning – everything from picture books to nonfiction, novels, comic books, and more.
On the island of Maui, Book Trust programs are operating at Ha‘iku, Hana, Kahului, Lihikai, Makawao, Waihe‘e, and Wailuku Elementary Schools. In Maui Nui, Book Trust programs are found at Lana‘i Elementary, and at both Kualapu‘u and Maunaloa Elementary Schools on Moloka‘i. Neighbor island implementations are also found in Nanaikapono, Palolo, and Waianae (O‘ahu), and at Honaunau Elementary (Big Island).
To raise funds for these programs, “Odyssey,” this year’s Book Trust Extravaganza, will take place in Wailea at the Four Season’s Resort. The gala will feature a pupus and cocktails reception coinciding with a silent auction, and a live auction “paddle raise” hosted by Maui’s own Tim Garcia. There’ll be live music with the ‘Ukulele Sisters, and a dinner menu created by Four Seasons’ chef de cuisine Craig Dryhurst. I spoke with Dryhurst about the menu for the night, and he told me that it will be traditionally Greek in conjunction with the theme of the event.
“The menu will encapsulate the Mediterranean diet,” he said. “There’ll be lots of fresh herbs from the island, local citrus fruits, and aromatic spices will be prominent in each dish. It’s the cuisine of a warm coastline from another part of the world. I’m interested to see how the guests enjoy this cuisine.”
There will be many exceptional auction items. For example, attendees can bid on a two-night stay at The Plantation Estate at Paradise Point in Kailua, O‘ahu. If you’re familiar with this address, you understand. If not, note that it’s also where President Obama stays when he visits Hawai‘i – and it’s not just a property for politicians, it’s also where celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Michael J. Fox, Bradley Cooper, and others hang out when touring O‘ahu’s incredible Windward side. It sleeps 10 people more than comfortably and is an obviously amazing auction win.
Silent and live auction items include art, various gift certificates, and a private dinner for six curated by chef Sheldon Simeon at Shep Gordon’s private home. The winners will be treated to a night of luxury: food and wine, live music by Marty Dread, and signed copies of Shep Gordon’s New York Times bestseller, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.
Gordon, a longtime supporter of Hawai‘i’s Book Trust, believes in the mission statement and understands how important it is to provide books to children who would otherwise not have the opportunity.
“Book Trust has a great mission statement, which includes to get books to children who can’t afford them,” said Gordon. “As a child, I lived in my books and dreamed that one day I would have adventures like I had read about. Without those dreams, I’m not sure where my life would have led. For $100 a year, you could give a child their dreams. What could be better? I’d like to say mahalo to the Book Trust for helping to make our community stronger.”
In January of 2019, Book Trust brought on a new director for Hawai‘i, Katie McMillan. McMillan has been a Maui resident for more than 17 years, and has an impressive professional background that revolves around education. Her portfolio includes being the co-founder of TEDxMaui and the former marketing and community relations director at UH Maui College. She has also worked for a selection of nonprofits including the Maui Culinary Academy and the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.
I met with McMillan to learn more about her vision for Book Trust. I asked how she first became involved.
“I was familiar with Book Trust, loved its mission, and then I learned through a friend that the former Hawai‘i director was looking for a replacement,” she said. “My friend thought I would be a great fit and she encouraged me to send in my resume. Personally, I was thrilled. I moved to Maui to work for a publishing company almost 20 years ago, and I was excited to return to the book world – but this time with a more philanthropic mission.”
She continued to tell me about her experience teaching business classes at UH Maui College. Even at a college level, McMillan encountered many students who struggled with reading and writing.
“By the time students are at the college level, it’s nearly impossible to get them caught up so they can succeed in school. There aren’t many living wage career opportunities available for people that have difficulty reading, and this is a serious issue not only for Maui, but our society as a whole. I saw first-hand that there was a real need for Book Trust, and that inspired me to take on this mission,” she added.
When I asked McMillan about her big goals for the Book Trust in 2019 and beyond, her innate passion for her role became infectiously inspiring.
“My big dream would be for literacy to never be a barrier to success for any student in Hawai‘i. If we can inspire children to love books at an early age, then I think we actually have a shot at making that happen. I would love to see every school with a need have the opportunity to offer Book Trust to their students.”
It’s an incredible goal, and with community support, it’s not impossible.
The majority of the Hawai‘i schools that Book Trust serves are in Maui County, McMillan told me. She knows that there are so many more Hawai‘i classrooms that could benefit from its programs, and expressed that she is open to meeting with more teachers and administrators to see if Book Trust would be a good fit for their students.
As our conversation deepened, I asked McMillan about her general thoughts in regards to Hawai‘i schools.
“Our community and our schools are heavily rooted in Hawaiian culture and we’re probably also one of the most multicultural states in the U.S. We are also on the most remote island chain in the world. Our needs, opportunities, and challenges are unique – so I think it’s incredibly important to have staff on the ground here, to build relationships with the schools and community, and make sure the program is functioning in the most impactful way. I also want people to know that all of the funding raised here, stays here. Even though Book Trust is a national organization, I am 100 percent focused on serving Hawai’i,” she said.
What’s more, 100 percent of the proceeds gained at this year’s Book Trust Extravaganza will be directed to Hawai‘i schools. A simple $100 donation covers the cost of one child for the entire school year, and $2,500 covers the cost of a whole classroom.
I was curious about how our community could really help the Book Trust’s progress in Hawai‘i. I asked McMillan how parents and community members could better support their mission.
“We actually provide numerous educational tools for both teachers and parents,” McMillan explained. “We provide tips on how to develop a love of reading at home based on the latest research on literacy development. We also have Book Trust managers in every school; we serve them and we arm them with the tools they need to assist parents in the literacy building process.”
Without a doubt, teachers deserve major respect. It’s something that McMillan and I touched on when discussing how teachers can enrich a classroom with support from the Book Trust program.
“Our teachers should be commended for the incredible work they do – for not enough pay – with children who come from households with very little resources. Some may even be homeless. To take a child who comes from a situation like this and ensure they are able to succeed in school should be cause to receive a national award. Teachers are everything, and without them Book Trust wouldn’t work. We provide them with the access, but they are the ones working one-on-one with each student. They create the culture of celebration around literacy inside the classroom,” said McMillan.
When I reached out to Book Trust CEO Tiffany Kuehner, she said that the success in Maui schools, where the program started, has actually become an example for their national programs.
“Our work in Maui has served as a model for Book Trust on how to make a national program truly local,” she explained. “As we develop our next five-year strategic plan, we are directly incorporating the lessons learned in Maui to guide our national approach to reach more students across the United States.”
Alicia Jacobson, a teacher at Ha‘iku Elementary School, is on the frontline with Maui’s students everyday, and has first-hand experience about how the Book Trust can benefit children. In conversation, Jacobson told me how rewarding it is to be able to provide a “high interest” book for her students.
“In knowing that many keiki do not have a home library, it brought me great joy when a former student excitedly explained to me how she was creating her very own library with her books from Book Trust,” she said. “This program truly brings the love of reading to reality.”
If you can’t attend the Maui Book Trust Extravaganza on March 23, you can always make a donation. A $100 donation can fund a child for an entire school year. Interested teachers and school administrators are invited to contact the organization for information on partnering with the Book Trust.
Images courtesy of Book Trust
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
5:30-6:30 pm – Reception
6:30-9:00 pm – Dinner
For more information, please visit booktrust.org