As long as social workers like Tiffanie Keliinui-McCreadie do their jobs, it’s easy for most of us not to think about teens with behavioral and emotional disabilities. “A lot of teens I work with in my residential youth home may push away adults,” she says. “They may behave as if they don’t want to be around people, but they crave love, attention, and care, and they want someone to hear their stories. If people are willing to listen, they see that my population of kids has the ability to connect.”
Most of her young clients are in foster care today, but someday soon they will be adults and working citizens in the community. Tiffanie, a second-year Master’s candidate in social work, explains that the more we put into the children, the more we all benefit when they are adults. “They come in with low self-worth and low self-confidence,” she says, “but we try to teach them to express their feelings, to negotiate with us and with each other, and to speak up for themselves.”
Tiffanie has worked for Catholic Charities for eight years, and hopes someday to open her own community-based residential home, a therapeutic environment supportive of young people’s needs in making the transition to adulthood. A graduate degree can help make this happen, but her full-time work directing the youth home doesn’t cover the tuition. The first-ever recipient of the Ethel Yamane Endowed Scholarship says, “I’m taking out loans for this degree, and I’m a mom, so this helps a lot.
“I’ve also gained a lot of confidence from this scholarship. Someone read what I wrote in the application, and someone believed in me. It feels like affirmation that I’m on the right track and that I’m going to do something important with my degree.”
The scholarship was established by Ethel Yamane, whose advocacy on behalf of Hawai‘i’s children began in 1950. During a 40-year career, she worked in the Department of Public Welfare (now called the Department of Human Services) and Department of Health in positions related to child welfare, foster homes, and deinstitutionalizing developmentally challenged children. She received scholarships throughout her studies, beginning in high school at Mid Pacific Institute, continuing through undergraduate studies at UHM, and including graduate work as she earned her MSW. Now, through this scholarship bearing her name, she continues to serve the community, assisting students like Tiffanie, who continues to gain new experience even as an experienced social worker.
“I’ve never studied as part of a cohort,” says Tiffanie, “but now I’m with people striving for the same goal, working toward caring for the community, hoping to make it better.”