This article appeared in the Greater Media Newspapers of New Jersey on June 15, 2009
By Lauren Ciraulo, Staff Writer

Old Bridge resident Gail Small may have left Oahu, Hawaii 37 years ago, but she has never left the culture of her birthplace behind. 
Instead, Small, 61, has recently begun to share her Hawaiian customs and traditions with people living on what she calls the "mainland" by giving hour-long lectures at area libraries.  I've found that people here don't know much about Hawaii," she said. "So I enjoy sharing my knowledge, teaching people something that they're interested in and giving them guidance."

Small started giving presentations last year while volunteering at the Interfaith Network program, a senior citizen social group at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Old Bridge. With little preparation, she spoke at two of the group's regular Tuesday and Friday meetings. 

"I really loved doing it and thought, 'Maybe I can improve on this,'" said Small. "So I started thinking about my presentations and preparing more and more before I went back in front of an audience."  A few loose pictures and Hawaiian staples turned into a 32-slide PowerPoint presentation with activities and displays. She also created two separate programs for children and adults.  Small's adult lecture covers the four major islands — Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii — and teaches about the state's history under the royal monarchy. She also delves into Hawaii's well-known volcanic eruptions, the Legend of Pele and the many racial groups that live together harmoniously on the islands. 

In addition to historical information, she teaches about creative endeavors including lei making, weaving, quilting and music, and shows the audience several Hawaiian items that she owns.  And of course, Small dances the hula.  "I think people enjoy that the most. I love showing them the hand movements and what they mean," she said. "I have two nieces who are professional hula dancers in Hawaii, so I continue to learn from them." 

The hula is the only common thread between the adult and children's lectures, the latter of which focuses on activities and arts and crafts. Small teaches her elementary-age audience 10 hand movements to the hula, along with 18 Hawaiian words. She also dances with the children, demonstrates how to make candy leis and reads them two Hawaiian storybooks.   "The great thing about kids is that they're open to learning new things. This is something that they've never done before and they absolutely love it," she said.  

Small hopes to expand her children's program by lecturing at summer camps, preschools and possibly children's birthday parties, as one mother had recently suggested to her. She would also like to incorporate a ukulele in her lectures and is in the process of composing a song. 

To date, Small has given lectures at libraries in Sayreville, Old Bridge, South River, North Brunswick and Highland Park. Her next presentation will be at the East Brunswick Public Library.

A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Small took approximately two hours to precisely set up a display case of her Hawaiian cultural items at the East Brunswick Public Library. The display, which will be up until June 18, consists of pictures and information about the royal monarchy, World War II, volcanoes and Hawaiian flowers. She also includes examples of weaving, ceramics, many types of leis, and her own handmade quilt.

Small cited a few points of interest regarding her lineage; she has an aunt and uncle who used to own a Kona coffee farm and a rare Hawaiian flower farm, and her great-grandfather sung in a professional Hawaiian music group with his brothers.  "Music is a huge part of Hawaiian culture," she said.  The majority of Small's family still lives in Hawaii, and she returns to Oahu every three to four years. 

However, Small doesn't only credit her upbringing for her recent endeavors —the primary reason that she currently lectures is because she became a casualty of the economy. If Small was not laid off from her administrative assistant position last June, she said that she would have never thought to compose Hawaiian culture presentations.  "If I didn't lose my job, I wouldn't have volunteered. If I didn't volunteer, I wouldn't have lectured," Small said. "Life would be very different, but it worked out well this way." 

Small encouraged those who are unemployed to take up an activity that they enjoy, but will keep them busy too. 
"I want people to know it's not healthy to spend every day looking for a new job. Take advantage of the time and do something you enjoy," she said. "Of course I'm looking for work, but I wouldn't give this up, even if I couldn't devote as much time to it." 

Small's next adult lecture will be at the East Brunswick Public Library on June 15 at 7 p.m. To contact Small in regard to her presentations, send an email to gsmall523@verizon.net.