In 2006, Kauai educator Dr. Kani Blackwell made a presentation at a monthly meeting of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay. Dr. Blackwell, who was then a full-time faculty member of the College of Education at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and Elementary Cohort Coordinator for Teacher Education on Kauai, spoke of the shortage of qualified teachers on Kauai. She appealed to the Rotary Club for financial aid for teacher candidates.
Inspired by Dr. Blackwell, the Hanalei Bay Rotarians established the “Growing Our Own Teachers” grant initiative with the goal of raising $50,000 by the end of 2007. An aggressive campaign yielded sizable donations from the Kapaa, Sunrise and Poipu Beach Rotary Clubs and many large and small donations from individuals.
Among the largest individual donations in that first year were those from Kauai residents and education advocates Cal Stanny and actor Pierce Brosnan. A total of $54,000 was raised in just over four months, and a new program to support education on Kauai was born.
In 2008, Growing Our Own Teachers on Kauai (GOOTOK) became a public charity, or foundation, that is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Since 2008, the foundation has continued on Kauai, raising over $100,000, all of which has been awarded to successful teaching candidates. Signs of success can be seen in the classrooms of new teachers who were able to complete the teacher program because of the stipend we provided as well as the important recognition it has received by the larger Rotary Community.
In May 2008, Growing Our Own Teachers on Kauai received the prestigious Rotary International Significant Achievement Award.
Growing Our Own Teachers on Kauai is guided by an all-volunteer Board of Directors whose backgrounds include current and past experience in corporate, educational, community, and professional work on Kauai and the mainland. Dr. Blackwell, who continues to inspire the foundation’s work, serves as Educational Advisor to the Board of Directors.