Backpacks for Back to School

Volunteer extraordinaire Sharon Lasker is part of the ‘Backpack Brigade’ that works in concert with Child & Family Service to fill backpacks with school supplies for keiki whose families could not otherwise afford to do so – 135 of them this fall

Every child deserves to attend school equipped with proper supplies. Volunteer extraordinaire Sharon Lasker is part of a group that helps make that happen each year.

“We want these kids to go to school feeling like all the other kids, as they should,” she says.

Prior to each school year, Lasker helps Kauai Guild (a volunteer arm of Child & Family Service) with its Backpack Brigade program, which ensures children in need have proper school supplies.

The list of keiki is generated by Child & Family Service, a statewide, private, nonprofit agency that helps strengthen families. Volunteers such as Lasker (called “Guildas”) are then provided with a menu of items including backpacks, paper, pens, glue and crayons needed by each child based on their age and school. This year, the program assisted 135 Kauai children.

“It’s heartwarming because you know you’re doing something that’s going to bring joy to this child. And if you’re bringing joy to this child, you’re bringing joy to the family,” says Lasker.

“When you’re a parent, you want your child to have better than you had; you want to do good for them. When you’re up against economic challenges, who do you turn to? So this way they have an agency to turn to with people who are able and willing to help make a little bit of difference and get these children off on the same footing as a child whose family is not facing these economic challenges.”

Kauai Guild was founded in 2003 by Kathy Richardson, Micki Evslin and Carole Kahn. At that time, there were about 10 volunteers. The organization has since grown to include more than 300 Guildas, including Lasker.

“It’s a great group of ladies to be associated with,” says Lasker about the many women who join forces to help keiki in need. “They just have such huge community spirit. They’re not out there waving their flags or tooting their horns. They’re just true volunteers trying to make a difference where they can.”

The group also assists families in need during the holiday season. Each Christmas, volunteers help distribute and donate gifts for keiki around the island.

“It really can make a difference for many of these families as to whether there will be something under the Christmas tree or not,” says Lasker.

Kauai Guild also steps it up year-round by donating diapers, bags of rice and other household necessities “to help families get reestablished,” says Lasker.

Volunteering to help children was a simple choice for the South Carolina native. Lasker was an elementary school teacher for a number of years and has worked with keiki a large portion of her professional life.

“Once you have a passion for children and families, you always do,” says Lasker, who graduated with a degree in education from Clemson University.

Not only was Lasker always drawn to schooling, she was the eldest of six siblings.

“I think being the oldest of such a large family instilled my very strong mothering instinct. I mother you whether you need it or not,” she jokes.

Lasker also uses her nurturing tendencies at her job as director of marketing at Regency at Puakea Retirement and Assisted Living.

“I am blessed to be a part of the lives of these outstanding kupuna,” she says.

The most rewarding element of her job is feeling as though she is making a difference in the lives of the Puhi residents. But the job has its challenges, as well.

“Losing one of our residents, even though you know they’re in a better place, is always going to be challenging for me,” she says. “They’re all part of our big, extended family.”

Retired schoolteacher and resident at Regency at Puakea Linda Ono is happy to have Lasker as a companion.

“She’s a good friend. She works here, but she’s a good friend,” she says. “She’s very caring and has so much love for everybody here – not just for me, for everybody. It’s not just her job, it’s who she is.”

It’s amazing that Lasker also has time to share her friendship through voluntary efforts with other organizations including East Kauai Lions Club, Women in Business Networking and the Kauai Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

She also finds spare moments to be with her husband, Chuck, owner of Social Kauai and father of her two adult children – David, who works for Social Kauai, and Brad, who is a chef on the Mainland.

The couple fell in love with Kauai in 2007 when they visited for the first time.

“My husband Chuck felt like he discovered a part of himself here during that very first visit, so we knew living on Kauai was ‘the dream’ for us,” she says.

In 2009, they lost a close friend to cancer and it reminded them just how short and precious life can be. By 2010, they packed their bags and moved to the island from Indiana, where they had spent some 25 years.

“We decided in early 2010 to just go for it,” says Lasker, who treasures time spent with family.

Though she enjoys reading, collecting beach glass and shells as well as gardening, Lasker is passionate about making time to volunteer.

“We’re all part of this beautiful, wonderful community that we call Kauai, and so if you can do something to help, why not?” she asks. “And if everybody does a little bit, that need is not so grand anymore.”

To volunteer or for more information about Kauai Guild, email Kahn at ckahn@hawaiiantel.net.

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