The BYU–Hawaii Women’s Organization had a luncheon to gather donations for students in need who don’t qualify for other opportunities on campus on Oct 3. The keynote speaker was a former national mother of the year award-winner Mervlyn Kitashima, who came to discuss how to connect families through all stages of life. She shared how children need to be taught correct principles and provided a supportive and safe environment for them to grow.
Kitashima shared, “When you help one, you help many. Women have the ability to be kind and loving to all.” She encouraged the crowd to go out and use that ability.
Kitashima shared how she hoped to inspire others by sharing her upbringing and the lessons she learned in her life. To begin her presentation about connecting children and grandmothers through all stages of life, Kitashima said a researcher once classified Kauai children into an at-risk children and an at-promise children category.
She said she was designated as a child at-risk. Her father was a member of the Coast Guard and an alcoholic. They were “definitely poor.” She had seven half-siblings and three siblings. She said “they would have been the family that was at the receiving end of” the Sub for Santa program. Her mother was a faithful member of the Church, and they were taught the gospel.
Kitashima said the researcher for the Kauai project came up with the term ‘protective factors,’ which “are traits and conditions that appear to alter or reverse negative outcomes.” She defined it as “people, places, and life experiences which have so much positive power that it turns your life around.” She then went on to explain the protective factors that changed the trajectory of her life.
The first protective factor: Work and responsibility
Kitashima said her family taught her work and responsibility. She relayed a story about how her mother told her and her siblings to cut the tall grass in the backyard, but they thought it would take too long, so they set the grass on fire instead.
She said her parents were not pleased, and their father reprimanded them. She urged families to teach children how hard work can positively influence once’s life.
The second protective factor: Caring and supportive people in the environment
Speaking about her grandmother, Kitashima said her grandmother was a kind, supportive woman who she “never heard yell at anyone.” She spoke about how her grandmother’s home was “immaculately clean,” nevertheless not once was she turned away from her grandmother’s house even when she was covered in mud. Her mother would bathe her and comb her hair to take “all the tangles out of her hair.” She said it would hurt and her grandma would say “almost done,” but “done would sometimes be 45 minutes to 1 hour.”
Kitashima said her grandmother helped her believe “maybe I can make it. Maybe somebody can love me today. This grandma had that wonderful ability and she did that for so many.” She said she knew she could always go to her grandmother’s home when “things were really bad.”
She said her grandmother’s example helped her when she was a young mother and stressed. She felt her grandmother’s spirit say, “It’s okay. We’re gonna get there. It’s okay.” She then told the crowd, “There are girls out there who need grandmas like hers, and you can be that.”
The third protective factor: A protective and safe environment
To Kitashima, she said it was the Kamehameha Schools which provided her a place where she could explore life experiences like student government, sports, and music “as a replacement for beating people up at the park.”
The fourth protective factor: A sense of purpose, sense of hope and a sense of the future
Although she could not go to church as a student at Kamehameha Schools, Kitashima said her foundation in Primary instilled a testimony at a young age. She said she knew she had a Father in Heaven.
When Kitashima had her first child at age 16 with the love of her life, she was kicked out of Kamehameha Schools. After a year, an administrator at Kamehameha Schools said, “No, we are going to change this because she is a good kid who made a mistake.”
That act of mercy allowed Kitashima to return to her Kamehameha School to finish her schooling.
Kitashima was the 2003 national Mother of the Year, as well as the 2003 Hawaii Mother of the Year. She was born in Anahola, Kauai, and graduated from Kamehameha Schools where she met her husband, Daniel.
The couple has four sons and three daughters. Kitashima worked for Kamehameha Schools at the Kapalama campus as a parent community network center facilitator for Pearl City Elementary School, the Leeward District Office and the Hawaii Department of Education.
She also served on the Aloha Council for the Boy Scouts of America, the Governor’s Commission on Teacher Morale, and as Commissioner of the Aloha Regions USA Junior Volleyball. For the last few decades, Kitashima has traveled throughout the United States and Canada presenting messages of resilience.
Come join the Women’s Organization
Nancy Eastwood, president of the Women’s Organization, invited everyone, men included, to come join and help the Women’s Organization, despite having many who are willing serve, most of the members have young families they need to provide for as well. “We want them to have these scholarships to be able to help [students in need] have the education they deserve.”
According to Celeste Yergensen, the first vice-president of the organization, they strive to be “a service organization.” 100 percent of the luncheon proceeds went into a textbook fund for students in financial need. She said, “Our main goal is to raise money for scholarships for those who cannot get it themselves, also for new mothers who may not have the resources available.”
She shared how happy she was to see women filling the room with smiles and open arms. Yergensen said, “We look forward to [the luncheon] because it is a wonderful opportunity to raise funds for the students we just adore and care for so much.”
Yergensen also mentioned the organization's desire to help families in the community by providing mother boxes to new mothers. The mother’s box program is a box that will include diapers and wipes, bibs, and baby food among other things needed for brand new mothers.
Upcoming events for the Women’s Organization
The Women’s Organization welcomes everyone to attend and “bring a friend to listen to these dynamic speakers.”
Nov. 14, 2019 - Cy Bridges, “100-year History of the Laie Temple”
Dec. 12, 2019 - Mason Allred, “Joseph Smith Papers”
Jan. 9, 2019 - Brook Kapukuniahi, “Honoring our Ancestors Through Our Individual Talents”