“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”~ e.e.cummings
When I met Brian Kajiyama, he was 10 years old and I was doing a story on assistive technology at Jefferson Elementary School. Brian was button cute, with bright eyes and a smile that made ME smile. He was working a joystick on a new computer to communicate because cerebral palsy made it impossible for him to speak.
Look at that cute kid now at 39 years old.
Not only has Brian grown up, he has a great career AND is on a mission to help other kids. His Heart of a Warrior Scholarship focuses on teenagers who have overcome personal challenges and plan to attend the University of Hawaii.
I have to say, he is now an inspiration to me.
Here’s my interview with Brian. Because he is non-verbal we communicated via Facebook and email:
JM: You have cerebral palsy. What does that mean for your everyday life? What can’t you do? But more important— what CAN you do?
BK: Having cerebral palsy simply means I need to do certain things differently and make adjustments in my own life to work around such challenges; I also need to rely on wonderful people, including my family to help me.
I’m unable to communicate verbally, I’m unable to walk, I have little control over my left side of my body. But, I can still do many things that enable me to impact society in a small way.
I use an augmentative communication device with speech output to communicate, and rely on a motorized wheelchair for mobility. I also have a service dog from Assistance Dogs of Hawaii on Maui to help me with basic things, like picking up items I might drop. Or calling someone when I’m home and might need assistance when I’m in my room.
However, I still believe I CAN help others and I try to do the best I can with my given abilities.
JM: Tell me about your career now. I know you teach at UH. What do you teach and why is it important?
BK: I’m currently an instructor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education’s Department of Special Education, where I get to teach young people who are interested in becoming educators. I also teach a course about how technology can enhance the educational experience for all children, especially children with disabilities. This is important, as we need highly qualified teacher candidates to have a positive impact on students here in Hawaii, so children can grow up believing they can be ANYTHING they aspire to be. I also truly LOVE what I do and value my colleagues in the Department of Special Education.
JM: Tell me about your scholarship. Who is it for? Why do you feel passionately about this?
BK: The Brian Kajiyama Heart of a Warrior Scholarship was established by former University of Hawaii Warrior football coach, Jeff Reinebold, through the June Jones (former head coach of the Warriors) Foundation. This allows all donations to be tax-deductible and ensures that ALL donations go towards this specific scholarship.
I feel passionate about this opportunity, as I will finally be able to give back to my community, after receiving so much support to help me get to where I am today in life.
Our future is in the hands of children. The aim is to have Hawaii high school seniors, intending to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa, to pursue higher education in any discipline.
I also felt strongly about making this scholarship opportunity different from any other scholarship. I plan to mentor the young person who receives this scholarship for his or her first year of college.
For the following year, the first awardee will be expected to mentor the next recipient with me, so that student can “pay it forward,” too.
Applicants need to share, through an essay, how they have overcome any type of adversity in order to thrive as a student and as a citizen of Hawaii in general. So, we want to learn about the wonderful stories of amazing young people, as we know they’re out there!
JM: What is the deadline for students to apply?
BK: The deadline for students to apply for consideration in 2016 is December 14, 2015.
JM: How can people apply and/or donate?
BK: More information, including the application form, can be found at http://heartofawarrior.wix.com/scholarship.
Donations to the scholarship fund can be made via check made out to June Jones Foundation, with a note in the memo indicating where the funds should go to, so a note of “Heart of a Warrior” would be sufficient. Checks can be mailed to: June Jones Foundation P.O. Box 11330 Honolulu, HI 96828