Every year for the past 25 years, Fun Factory Inc., in cooperation with the University of Hawai‘i, has funded a year’s study at a UH campus for 20 students. To date 500 Fun Factory scholars have benefited from this partnership.
It all began on a rainy day in 1976. Kane Fernandez and his wife Linda were standing in the mud watching the rain pour down on what was supposed to have been a crowded and profitable Punahou Carnival. They looked at each other and agreed they needed an indoor venue for their games and rides that would shore up their weather-dependent outdoor carnival business.
The result was the opening, in 1977, of the first of what would become more than 20 Fun Factory indoor entertainment centers. While Kane managed the carnival side of the business, Linda took over Fun Factory. The two spouses were well-matched with a shared work ethic. They also shared a commitment to education.
Fun Factory Vice President Donna Smith, who has been with the company for more than 30 years, explains, “Kane and Linda have always felt strongly about the importance of education because of the positive impact it can have on a person’s life regardless of their background.”
In 1982, Linda created the Fun Factory honor roll program that encourages children to “study hard and make good grades.” In return, Fun Factory gives grade school through high school students certificates and free game tokens for each quarter they earn As and Bs on their report cards. In addition, Fun Factory lists qualifying students in a full page ad in the newspaper and has started offering, in partnership with Aloha Pacific Credit Union, an annual random drawing for two laptops. Thousands of students have participated over the years.
The Fun Factory/UH scholarship evolved from a conversation that Kane and Linda had with then-UH President Al Simone on a bus ride to a football game. Fun Factory agreed to give $20,000 to be used for $1,000 scholarships to 20 freshmen students at the same time the university agreed to waive tuition for these students.
“The goal is to reward students for academic excellence and to provide an incentive for Hawai‘i’s bright young people to come to UH rather than go to a mainland university. Our message is ‘Come to UH and we will help you get started your freshman year,’” said Donna Smith, who joined Linda in the meeting with President Simone and Dr. Doris Ching to establish the scholarship.
The Fun Factory/University of Hawai‘i scholarship was first awarded in 1989 and has been awarded every year since to make a difference in students’ lives. In 2003, UH asked Linda Fernandez to consider adding five more annual scholarships of $1,000 each. These would help five of the freshmen scholars in their sophomore year with the hope that their academic success would earn them Presidential scholarships to cover their junior and senior years. Linda agreed and these additional scholarships have been offered every year since.
Here are two scholarship recipients’ stories.
When asked how the Fun Factory Scholarship helped him, Micheal wrote, “Earlier this year I was frustrated with my college expenses. My parents just aren’t in a position to help me with them. Even though I had paid the $200 deposit to attend UH Hilo, I wanted to withdraw my registration. When I heard that I’d been awarded a 1-year tuition waiver and the $1,000 stipend through the Fun Factory university scholarship, my hope and eagerness to go to college returned. This scholarship reduces my student loan and my parents were very happy and thankful for that.”
Micheal, who is majoring in biology, is in his first semester at UH Hilo and plans to eventually achieve a doctorate in pharmacy. He likes to quote his English professor who told him, “Your future does not have to be defined by where you came from.”
“Yes, I am one of the lucky few that received this second year scholarship and my parents and I are so appreciative of it,” she said. “It makes financing my education a little more bearable. My parents know they are in for a long haul, since my goal is to become a medical doctor.”
Although Kane passed away in 2001, Linda remains just as strongly committed to this community investment as she was in the first year. “This is our corporate give back to the community because our youth are our future,” she explains. “There’s no better investment than in Hawai‘i’s young people. By nurturing and encouraging them from grade school to college, we hope to be making a positive difference in their lives and in that of our community. My hope is that the children of our Fun Factory Scholars will receive the award when it’s time for them to enroll at UH.”