HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An innovative multimedia program is transforming lives and opening doors for students in Leeward Oahu. L. Candy Suiso, the co-founder of Waianae High School's Searider Productions, is one of the outstanding leaders being recognized this year by the YWCA of Oahu.
"My mom told me this: She said, 'Love each child as if they were your own,'" said Suiso.
Suiso never imagined that she would follow in her mother's footsteps as a teacher. Julia Malapit Smith put in long hours at Makaha Elementary while struggling to raise four children.
"I thought, 'Oh, she's working too hard, I don't think I want to be a teacher,'" recalled Suiso.
After graduating from Waianae High School, Suiso couldn't wait to leave.
"I just said, 'I'm going to go far, far away and I'm never, ever, ever coming back,'" she said.
Suiso earned her liberal arts degree from the University of Northern Iowa. She finally had a change of heart and accepted a teaching job at her high school alma mater in 1987. She started using a video camera in her Spanish class to make learning fun.
"It was just amazing what I saw these students do and I knew that the camera was the hook," said Suiso.
She co-founded Searider Productions in 1993. Former students fondly recall the program's humble beginnings.
"We had one classroom. We packed like 60 kids in every period. It was super intimate and fun," said former student John Allen III, who now works as a video advisor for Searider Productions.
Suiso worked tirelessly behind the scenes for more than 20 years to secure funding and space to grow. The award-winning multimedia program is now a success story. Students create television commercials, Searider News and public service announcements.
"Whoo, it's amazing. I never imagined we would actually have something (like this)," she tearfully said.
These days, Suiso is no longer in the classroom, leaving that job to other talented teachers. Former students are thrilled that the YWCA is recognizing her as an inspirational leader.
"Just working with her has really changed my life," said Allen.
"If it weren't for Suiso, I wouldn't be in New York today," said Ashley Ako, a freelance creative working in New York. "She made us believe that we could, and most of us did."
"When they come back and say, 'Thank you, if it wasn't for you,' it validates that you made the right decision," Suiso said.
Suiso plans to retire in a few years to spend more time with her family. She also wants to focus on their business called Makaha Mangoes. For now, she's just enjoying the fruits of her labor on her farm and in her community.