YWCA Honoree: Loretta Luke Yajima

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - She is a powerful fundraiser -- and a champion of Hawaii's keiki. Loretta Luke Yajima is the board chair for the Children's Museum -- leading the effort for more than 30 years.

"I've always known that I wanted to work with children and to be a teacher. I think ever since kindergarten when Betty Cooker was my teacher."

And that's exactly what Loretta Luke Yajima did. She taught at multiple places including Kuhio Park Terrace, UH Lab School and Hanahauoli. But she found her niche in an unlikely place. 
            
 "A group of volunteers came to see me and they said we want your help in starting the Children's Museum. Everyone thinks I'm the founder of the children's museum and I said to them, 'what is that?"

Loretta led the effort to open the first Children's Museum in Hawaii at Dole Cannery in 1989 and she never looked back. And the one thing we came away with was that it's not for the faint of heart.

"It is so much work, so 30 years later I'm still doing that, and I think it's the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life," she said.

She didn't stop there.

Governor Waihee approached her in the mid 1990s and asked if she would like to move and to expand the Children's Museum to Kakaako on state land.
 
"The garbage trucks used to go up and around and drop the trash and there were three huge furnaces where we used to burn the city trash. I walked in here and cried."

Never one to back down from a challenge, Loretta eventually opened the 45,000-square-foot facility in 1998.

"My advice, for what it is, is never give up."

She has raised $23 million for the Children's Museum over the years, never taking home a salary.

She is an unpaid volunteer who still goes to work seven days a week.

Her friend and fellow board member Lauren Wright has seen the proof.

"You can find her writing a grant in her office, you can find her in the children's restroom fixing a toilet, or she's painting a wall," Wright said. "There's nothing this lady won't do or cannot do for this center. Absolutely."

As if working every day of the week writing grants, brainstorming new exhibits and managing a museum that has about 125,000 visitors a year isn't enough. Her next chapter: helping to open 100 Children's Museums in 100 cities in China.

"If you really believe in something and feel passionate about it and are willing to work hard, dreams do come true."

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.