HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every few years, lawmakers and their staffers come and go -- but one smiling face at the State Capitol has been a constant for nearly two decades.
60-year old Cheryl Derby has been volunteering in State Representative Mark Takai's office since 1999.
"Cheryl's been great. She's been with me for 16 sessions. She's actually the longest-serving staff member of my office," said Rep. Takai (D - Aiea).
Derby went to work at the Capitol 15 years ago as part of the Arc in Hawai'i's Internship Program, which enabled people with developmental disabilities to volunteer at the Legislature.
"Cheryl was one of our first people and she went into Mark Takai's office and she enjoyed it so much she continued to volunteer," described Christina Hogan, the training coordinator for Arc in Hawai'i.
119 interns were placed in offices before the program ended in 2005 -- Derby is the only one who kept returning session after session. The outreach left such a lasting impression on her, Derby refused to let a lack of funding keep her from helping out.
"What Cheryl has done is she has shown anyone can do it," Hogan explained. "She's the one who went to Mark Takai's staff and Mark and said, 'I want to continue volunteering, not just for that one week of legislative internship.' She took the initiative to do that."
When asked why she keeps coming back, Derby answers with a smile, "Because they ask me to help work with Mark."
"Before Representative and I start talking about who will be on our legislative staff we make sure we check with Cheryl, and if she wants to be here we make sure that we make space for her," described Lisa Vargas, Rep. Takai's legislative office manager.
Derby catches a handivan from Wahiawa once a week.
"During session she's always walking around greeting people. This morning I saw her talking with Representative [Clift] Tsuji, so I think she knows more people than I do," said Randy Yamamoto, a session staffer for Representative Scott Nishimoto.
Derby's duties include gathering signatures on certificates, stuffing envelopes for monthly mail outs, organizing and restocking the offices supplies, making committee packets, and taking care of the plants in the office. Along with the official delivery rounds she makes, she also gifts hand-made cards.
"Today's greeting card says, 'Happy Easter Mr. Speaker', so she wanted to wish all of us and all of you a Happy Easter," Rep. Takai read after introducing her to the House of Representatives during Wednesday morning's session.
"What makes Cheryl very special is her personality, as you all know. She's always eager to learn new things and offer assistance. She's walking around the Capitol visiting all of our offices doing the things that a great staff person does," Rep. Takai said during his floor address.
Takai is seeking higher office and this will be his last session at the Capitol, possibly Derby's as well. She says she welcomes the chance to help someone else out.
"I want to. [I] have fun," Derby said.
Derby says she would happily volunteer for free, but years ago staffers learned about her love for movies so they pay her $100 every month out of the office allowance to help cover her trips to the theater.
Derby is also involved in Special Olympics. She has a gold medal in bocce ball and loves bowling.