2018 LeaderLuncheon profile: Loretta Luke Yajima


Loretta Luke Yajima is the Chair of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center. 

In 1987 she became involved in the planning stages of the Hawai'i Children's Museum and assumed the position of President of the Board of Directors. She led the Museum through three capital campaigns raising over $20 million as the museum transitioned from a storefront children's museum in Dole Cannery Square to its current location in the Kaka'ako Waterfront Park. 

Today the 45,000-square-foot Children's Discovery Center is one of the finest children's museums in the country. 

In 1973, Yajima was recognized as one of the Outstanding Elementary Teachers of America. In 1991, she received the JC Penny's Golden Rule Award for Volunteerism, and in 1992, the George Washington Medal of Honor Award for Individual Achievement from the Valley Forge Freedom Foundation. 

During her term as President, the Hawai'i Children's Museum received the First Lady's Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award as the most innovative project, a Community Recognition Award from The Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i, the Award of Excellence from The College of Education at the University of Hawai'i, and a Certificate of Recognition from the City Council of Honolulu. 

In 2008 Yajima was recognized by Pacific Business News as the Woman Volunteer of the Year, and in 2009 she received a Humanitarian Award from the SGI Cultural Center in Honolulu. Recently, she was awarded Punahou School's Charles S. Judd, Jr. Humanitarian Award for her work in helping to build children's museums throughout China. 

She continues to work today as a full time volunteer for the Center.

Get to know Loretta Luke Yajima:
LeaderLuncheon Q & A

Q: What types of qualities make a good leader?

Loretta Luke Yajima: A good leader is one who has a vision, is passionate about it, and has the ability to communicate that vision to inspire others. He or she must be humble and able to inspire others by example and work to create a culture where each team member can give his or her best toward the success of the project.  As a leader, one must learn what others value and then inspire trust in his or her team by focusing on each person’s strengths.  If your primary purpose is for a “greater good” then people will extend themselves well beyond what they would normally be capable of doing, and that is when magic happens!

Q: What has helped you become a more effective leader?

LLY: Learning to ask for and accepting help from others.

Q: Name a woman leader who inspires you and explain why?

LLY: There are many accomplished women who inspire me.  Our team at the Discovery Center, for example, amazes me every day with their dedication and love of children.  But this quote from Oprah Winfrey sums it up when she says, “I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.” 

Q: What was your dream job growing up?

LLY: Ever since kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher.  I still remember the names of my kindergarten and first grade teachers, Betty Crooker and Mary Redding, and I remember them both for their love of children.  I thought at that time, nothing could be more noble as a profession.  I started my teaching career with Project Head Start in Kuhio Park Terrace and then taught at the University Lab School as a demonstration teacher for curriculum materials being developed for the DOE. In 1987, I left my position as Administrative Director of Hanahauoli School when a group of volunteers approached me to help them start a children’s museum in Hawaii. So, I left my job and became a fulltime volunteer for the Children’s Discovery Center.  And, that was 30 years ago.  My whole life I’ve devoted my efforts to nurturing empowering children. Helping others and making a difference in their lives is what inspires me until today.  I guess you could say then that this is my dream job!

Q: What’s one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever received?

LLY: I remember well the lessons that I learned from observing my mother, Beatrice Luke.  She told me to always be grateful for what I have and to help others who are less fortunate.  She also told me to always be humble and that when you believe in something worthwhile to never give up. This advice has been the guiding principles from which I have lived my life. 

When the task of conducting a capital campaign to move the children’s museum from Dole Cannery to Kaka’ako Park seemed like an impossible dream, I realized that the need was too great and the mission too important for us to allow ourselves to give up.  In the beginning, the legacy of building a children’s museum for the families and children here in Hawaii was to be a gift to them from the donors and volunteers who made the Center possible.  Now the legacy is much larger than that . . . it is the love that is passed on and communicated between parent and child when they come to the Center.  In many ways, the legacy is that which the Center stands for (empowering children, instilling in them a pride in their ethnic and cultural heritage, and the importance of learning as a lifelong endeavor) which will continue to grow and be passed on from generation to generation.

Q: As a woman leader, what can you advise others to do to help each other or help the next generation of women leaders?

LLY: Believe in yourself.  Don’t be afraid to attempt to do something you’ve never done before and to learn from your mistakes. Most importantly, have faith in others and what they will do when they too believe in the dream. To those who would say the aloha spirit is no more, I say spend a day with me and I’ll show you where it overflows.  Here in Hawaii, where our commitment to our children has remained strong, we have accomplished something wonderful here in Kaka’ako.  The children, who are ultimately the beneficiaries of this spirit, will come to our Center and discover – not just exciting new things about themselves and the world – but a Center that was built by the spirit of aloha!

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Join YWCA O'ahu in honoring four extraordinary local women whose commitment, grace and spirit have made a tremendous impact in their communities. Guests from all fields of work are invited to attend the YWCA O'ahu LeaderLuncheon to support the advancement of women leaders in Hawai'i and the YWCA mission of "Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women."

Table sponsorships are available starting at $3,000. Individual tickets cost $150. Click HERE to make your LeaderLuncheon reservation today