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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 6, 2010

'Olelo gives voice to community

By Robbie Dingeman

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

ANDREW SHIMABUKU |  The Honolulu Advertiser

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Current job: president and chief executive officer of 'Olelo Community Media

Age: 48

Describe your job: Heads "a nonprofit community organization that's devoted to helping the community become civically engaged through community media, through television ... A lot of what I do is building relationships."

First job: Delivering the Windward Press in Waimanalo when she was 12 years old.

Education: Graduated from Kaiser High School, went to Windward Community College, then got a bachelor's degree in communication at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

Work philosophy: "From my perspective, a really important strength in being a business leader is being able to understand where other people are coming from ... And you have to balance work and family."

Business tip: "If you just keep at it, you can be successful. Once people believe in themselves and believe they can do it, that's the best thing."

Favorite movie: "Something's Gotta Give"

Recent book: "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr."

On the Web: www.olelo.org

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Keali'i Lopez president and chief executive officer of 'Ōlelo Community Media got started at the nonprofit community organization the way a lot of people do, as a student.

In her case, she was a University of Hawai'i student working on a television magazine show.

She has led the Māpunapuna-based organization for the past six years, working to provide the skills and tools for people to share their stories about their community while "fostering civic engagement and well-being."

Lopez has worked at 'Ōlelo for a total of 18 years; she left to work at Kamehameha Schools for a time, then returned 10 years ago and has been president for the past six years.

Being in the leadership role allows her to help steer "what I see as a very valuable community resource and make sure the resource is protected and available for future generations."

She is quick to credit the people she works with for helping give voice to Hawai'i's diverse community, whether it's gavel-to-gavel coverage of city and state government meetings, student programming or the concerns of myriad ethnic groups in the Islands.

Lopez points to programming for Sāmoan, Vietnamese, Micronesian, even Hawaiian communities. "Their voices can be seen and heard on community television," which happens less often in mainstream media.

And that variety keeps her excited about her work. "I get to be a part of something that can make a difference in people's lives," she said.

" 'Ōlelo couldn't do what it does except for the staff," Lopez said, which numbers about 60, a combination of full- and part-time.

Now in its 21st year, 'Ōlelo (which means to speak in Hawaiian) grew out of a national citizens' movement in the 1970s to provide communities with a voice through their local cable systems.

The operating budget for 2010 is $4.5 million, 80 percent paid by the franchise fees on cable television bills.

Established in 1989, 'Ōlelo has grown to be one of the largest community-access providers in the country.

Because it operates on cable, it doesn't have the same limits on content that broadcast television does, which operates under the Federal Communications Commission. "We don't control the content," Lopez said.

While the freedom allows people a chance to exercise their First Amendment rights, it also opens the door to content that draws complaints.

Some people have called some programming aired late at night objectionable, offensive and potentially pornographic. Others complained about a video of teens skateboarding down the street on Tantalus. What the videographers saw as "extreme sports," the callers saw as dangerous and criminal.

But Lopez, who is Native Hawaiian, remains proud of the variety of programming that 'Ōlelo offers and explains that it does fit with the organization's slogan: "When our voice thrives, so does our community."

Lopez lives in Moanalua with her husband, two sons, 18 and 17, and an 8-month-old grandson.

She's proud of the organization's extensive work in the Wai'anae community, where people tell positive stories about a place that once was best known for the bad things that happened there.

"It's helping people find (a) voice," she said.

In addition to television programs, 'Ōlelo has broadened its reach to the Web with content available on-demand. So, if you miss a City Council hearing on rail or an 'ukulele-building workshop, you can still find it and watch it from your computer.

"The biggest misconception is they think that 'Ōlelo is only about television," she said.

But Lopez said the extensive coverage of government at the City Council and the state Senate helps people get involved with government and the community .

And while it's something people who are not government wonks may take for granted, she is reminded of the value of the programming by visitors from other countries who are amazed by the access that everyday people have.

Lopez measures the organization's success "by the degree to which we are able to help other people reach their own goals."