Soetoro Ng Reads Aloud At Waipahu

Students of all ages from various schools, along with their families, gathered at Waipahu Elementary School April 5 to welcome a special guest – Maya Soetoro-Ng, a children’s book author, University of Hawaii professor and President Obama’s half-sister.

Soetoro-Ng read excerpts from her book, Ladder to the Moon, as part of a Read Aloud Program (RAP) sponsored by the local nonprofit Read Aloud America (RAA).

Read Aloud America

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The nonprofit Read Aloud America has been conducting its dynamic reading program spring semester at Waipahu Elementary School, including this April 5 packed rally for reading with founder Jed Gaines (front). He welcomes students and parents to the free evening agenda, which featured a special appearance by author Maya Soetoro-Ng. Photo by Chris Rhoades.

RAA was founded in 1995 to promote literacy, encourage a love of reading in children and adults and increase children’s success in school. The organization has run programs all over the state, and has served more than 300,000 families. RAA development director Maryellen Markley adds that one of its key goals is to help parents develop better communication skills with their children.

“We help parents talk through the challenges they have in communicating with their kids,” she explained. “We always ask what is the biggest challenge for the parents, and it’s always the same thing. They say once they (the kids) get to a certain age, they won’t talk to the parents … RAA has been working for years to help parents develop better habits, better communication skills.”

RAP consists of six sessions per semester. The evening typically kicks off with dinner and games. Then children are divided into different age groups and read to, while RAA volunteers conduct a Q & A session with parents. Markley explained that parents will leave the session with handouts and ideas on how to start their own programs at home.

RAA has run its program at Waipahu Elementary since the start of spring semester. More than 650 people attended the April 5 event to hear Soetoro-Ng read.

“(Soetoro-Ng) has been interested in Read Aloud for a long time,” Markley explained, “and we also love her book.”

Ladder to the Moon is based on Soetoro-Ng and President Obama’s mother, an anthropologist who worked in various communities around the world to develop services for low-income families. SoetoroNg’s daughter – and the star of the book – never got to meet her grandmother, and the book depicts a fantasy in which her grandmother comes back and shows her some of the places that she used to work.

“The book stresses the importance of giving back,” Markley said. “The kids really enjoyed the book, but also the parents enjoyed it.”

But while Markley says that this type of success is typical for RAA’s events, the program currently is facing financial struggles. During the last several years, the organization was existing primarily on state funding. Last April, RAA lost 95 percent of its program money. Markley said the group has been making do since then, thanks to community support and its 1,500 volunteers. But the organization is in danger of having to end RAP sessions if it can’t raise enough funds.

“We have a lot of schools that are interested in RAP – schools that we have gone to in the past that want us to come back, or schools that have never had the program but have heard great things and want it there,” Markley said. “And we want to continue to do it.”

Schools in Waianae, Pearl City and Waipahu are among those that hope to start RAP. “There are several schools out in that area that have been on our waiting list and are waiting for our services,” Markley said. “And we really want to be there for them.”

RAA is waiting for a funding decision from the Legislature and expects that it will hear within the next couple of weeks.

“We’re very hopeful,” she added.