Staff Biographies

Leilani Au
Center Director

Lani Au has been the Education Coordinator at the Center for ten years. Previously, she was a preschool teacher for twenty years, most recently as the lead teacher in the infant room at Honolulu Community College. Lani continues to work with HCC as a lecturer for their Early Childhood Education department. She has a Master’s degree in Education from University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa. Lani is happily married to her high school sweetheart, is the mother of two growing boys, and enjoys photography, reading, gardening, and baking– but she still has enough energy for getting to know all the children and families at the Children’s Center and is excited to take on her new position as Center Director.
Jeff Bock, MEd
Acting Educational Coordinator

Jeff is a fan of large projects that the students can immerse themselves in. He joined the Center family in 2007, but has also taught early elementary classes at a Montessori school, as well as at the high school level with the Hawai'i Department of Education. Jeff has worked with the State on Early Childhood Education issues.
wendiWendi Uyemura
Administrative Assistant

Wendi has a BS in Family Resources and a Masters in Early Childhood Education from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. She was a lead classroom teacher at St. Timothy's Children's Center for 7 years working with two and three-year olds before joining UHMCC as a toddler teacher. In 2009, Wendi transitioned into her current position as administrative assistant. She has two children who keep her very busy and who can also sometimes be seen at her desk before and after school hours.
Andrea Hill
Poni Class, 2′s

Andrea has called O‘ahu her home for all her life, and if asked for directions is known to say, “I know landmarks, not street names. But you can’t get lost on an island — just take the scenic route!” Andrea is passionate about her friends, family, and extended family at the Children’s Center, where she has worked since 1998, most recently at the Little House where she enjoys every minute of her time with Honua. Andrea and her other family — her husband, James, and daughter Ashley — love spending time on their boat in Kaneohe Bay. Andrea earned a BA in Sociology from University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa while also doing coursework in Early Childhood Education.
Micah Cabalo
Poni Class, 2′s

Before becoming one of the teachers in Poni class, Micah was previously a student assistant and substitute teacher at UHMCC for over 3 years. While at the Children’s Center, he earned a BS in Family Resources, while also taking classes in Early Childhood Education. He finds it rewarding to see the children grow as individuals while they are here. When not in the classroom he enjoys spending time with family and friends, hiking, going to the beach and especially going fishing.
Valley Varma
‘Ōma‘oma‘o Class Teacher, 2's

Valley joined the UHMCC ‘ohana as a Hokū teacher in 2011 after she fell in love at first sight with the environment and the school’s philosophy the first time she saw it! This semester, Valley will be teaming up with Jeff in the Moana Classroom. Although Valley is an island girl she didn’t begin her journey in the field of Early Children Education until she left Kauai for college in California with plans to pursue a career in live theatre. After volunteering as a camp counselor for third graders along the coast of Northern California during spring break, Valley knew she would never be the same again. While she entered the field as a surprise to herself she has been teaching for 16 years and is passionate about her work. Valley hopes to instill a life long love for learning in the hearts and minds of the children she has the pleasure to know and believes that this is done best by creating a balance between child directed emergent learning experiences and intentional pre-planned inquires that evolve from children’s interests. Valley was a student at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena CA before she moved home to the islands and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Curriculum studies at UH Mānoa. She lives in Kaimuki with her husband, 12 year old son, and the family cat Mingus.
Karmen Furtado
‘Ōma‘oma‘o Class Teacher, 2's

Karmen is very happy and excited to join the UHMCC family again! She was previously a student assistant at UHMCC for over three years while earning a BS in Family Resources at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Karmen has a passion for working with children and enjoys watching them learn and grow each day. She believes that early education is crucial for a child's development and wants to provide children with the best environment to learn, grow, and explore. She is looking forward to getting to know the children, families and staff at the Children's Center as well as learning to improve as an early education teacher. Karmen enjoys spending time with her family, especially her nephews and friends. She likes traveling, reading, shopping and going to the beach.
Gwen Dufault
Hōkū Class Teacher, 2's

Gwen believes children’s early years are critical, formative ones — a time when children need ample opportunities to explore the world, things and people. Gwen thrives on this same kind of exploration, and is particularly fascinated with helping to develop music behaviors with young children. When she’s not playing at work, Gwen likes to spend time with family and friends, play outdoors (especially at the beach), and embark on new experiences. Currently, Gwen is pursuing a Masters in Early Childhood Education from University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
enaEna Reelitz
Hōkū Class Teacher, 2's

Ena was born, raised, and is still living in Kaneohe with his family. He graduated from Kamehameha in 1999 and has worked with children since. He has worked at the Alani Children's Center on the Kapiolani Community College campus for the past 15 years. As a student aide and then a teachers assistant at Alani, he achieved a Bachelors in Sociology from UH Manoa with additional credits in Early Childhood education from Honolulu Community College. He has been the lead teacher in the lab preschool classroom at Alani for the past 5 years. He joins UHMCC looking to grow as a teacher and to be a part of a larger family of enthusiastic educators.

Heather Tabios
Ānuenue Class, 3′s

“I enjoy working with the children because every day is a new adventure! Heather has been working as an assistant at the Children's Center since 2005 and has been a classroom teacher since 2008. Heather loves drag racing cars and is currently a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She was born and raised in Hawai'i and earned a Bachelors of Science in Family Resources from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.
wendeeWenDee Eng, Ānuenue Class, 3's

It is a privilege to share laughter and happiness with children, "the joy on young children's faces when sharing music, movement and singing is priceless!" WenDee loves high tea and gathering with family and friends to eat and talk story. WenDee earned a Master's degree in Education with a degree concentration in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
Kristi Kawahara-Xu
Ānuenue Class, 3′s

Kristi has a passion for photography and travel. She worked with the Children’s Center as a student assistant while earning a BS in Family Resources from University of Hawai’i at Manoa, afterwards working for three years as a program coordinator for elementary-aged children. Kristi began taking classes in Early Childhood Education after finding she missed working with preschoolers, and she joined the Children’s Center in 2004. Today, Kristi continues to take courses in early childhood education.
Heather Lemkelde,
Tuahine Teacher, 4's & 5's

Heather is very happy to be joining the UHMCC team. She has enjoyed working with young children for more than 20 years. She has taught in a variety of settings including a Baltimore City Public School, a Head Start program on Oahu, and an international preschool in Japan that uses the Reggio Emilia approach.

Heather earned a B.A. from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga where she worked for the Ministry of Education's Office of Early Childhood Education. She then went on to attain her Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Union Institute & University.

Heather has a special interest in emergent literacy and loves to encourage young children to express their ideas through visual arts. Other than working with children, Heather enjoys traveling with her husband, knitting, photography, and hiking. She looks forward to getting to know the children, families and staff of UHMCC better in the coming years.
Shanda Freitas
Tuahine Teacher, 4's & 5's

Shanda is a mother of two daughters Tehani and Tara, and two grandchildren. She graduated from UH Mānoa with a Masters in the Educational Foundations Program. Shanda loves art, music, culture and surfing. "I have been working with young children for thirteen years and still love it! My mission is to instill a love of learning by creating hands-on, meaningful learning experiences."
Ivy Robertson
Tuahine Teacher, 4's & 5's

Ivy was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and moved to Hawai’i in 2006. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in Youth Recreation from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 2011. She spent 2 years as a student assistant at UHMCC while concurrently teaching a large motor skills clinics to young children.
Royce Bowman
Tuahine Teacher, 4's & 5's

Many people have asked me about how I, as a man, decided to pursue a career in early education. In short, my parents are both teachers, along with much of my family, and they have imparted upon me a passion for education and a clear picture of why it is important. I was born and raised in Hawai‘i graduating from Punahou high school and the University of Hawai‘i with a degree in Art Photography, throughout which, I have continually worked in the field of education and taken early education classes. I worked at Punahou’s after school program for four years, taught at the UH summer science program, and worked as an assistant teacher for three years at a small private preschool in Kaimuki. My focus with children tends to favor the cultivation of creativity in all areas their lives, from drawing and painting, to conversation and storytelling, to physical movement, I love seeing what is unique in each child. I truly believe that we learn at least as much from the children as we teach, and that is what excites me about this field.
Alyson Navarro
UHMCC @ Kūhiō site, multi-age

Alyson finds teaching rewarding because it gives her the opportunity to observe the student's investigation, curiosity and discoveries into an about the world around them. Alyson earned a BA in Speech from the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa, while also taking classes in Family Resources and Early Childhood Education.
Raymond Sanchez
UHMCC @ Kūhiō site, multi-age

My name is Raymond Sanchez and I am thrilled to be part of the UHMCC teaching team. I have worked with children my entire adult life and enjoy helping children discover the world around them. I earned a BS in Human Services from the University of Phoenix. My passion for traveling and love of teaching has brought me to the beautiful islands of Hawai‘i for what is sure to be a life changing adventure. I am a native to Los Angeles and raised on the beach in Venice where my entire family resides. I enjoy listening to all types of music and taking pictures of natural and creative objects. I look forward to sharing many memories and experiences during my time here in Hawai‘i.
Avis Seki
UHMCC @ Noelani site, multi-age

Avis enjoys working with young children "because they remind us to live life to its fullest, to love unconditionally, and to laugh each and every day." Outside of the classroom, Avis likes to craft, shop, and go to movies. Avis earned a BEd in Elementary Education from University of Hawai'i.
Shelley Yorita
UHMCC @ Noelani site, multi-age

"When working with children, I strive to keep everything simple, meaningful, intentional and fun!" Shelley loves Indian food, bean burritos, growing food to eat and watching the clouds roll by. Shelley earned a Masters in Education from University of Hawai'i, Mānoa.
DaniDani Daher
Resource Teacher

Dani has worked as a student assistant and substitute teacher at UHMCC for 3 years before joining the staff. She is thrilled to join the team since UHMCC’s teachers inspired her to pursue her BA in Early Childhood Education from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She has been working with children since 2004, and had previously worked as an elementary teacher’s aide, a caregiver and a language teacher. Dani is originally from Brazil, but she also lived in Connecticut and Spain. She has been in Hawai‘i with her husband since 2009 and they have no plans of ever leaving! Dani enjoys doing yoga, cooking, going to the beach and traveling around the world with her husband.

Kara Nishijima
CCAMPIS Student Coordinator/Website & IT/ Resource Teacher

Kara loves encouraging and inspiring the natural creativity and curiosity of children as they learn about and discover the world around them. She believes that young children have a lot to share, values the perspectives they bring, and wants to let their voices be heard. “I love helping families and being a part of children’s lives. Experiencing the joy, wonder, and love they bring into this world is so rich and rewarding.” Kara received her BA from the University of San Diego in Liberal Arts (Education) and Masters in Early Childhood Education from Mills College. She worked at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center at UC Berkeley for 3 years, then returned home to Hawai‘i and joined the UHMCC ‘ohana in 2007.
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