It’s Never Too LateJennie Waiwaiole-Vega is an inspiration. She works full time, is a mother of four and yet still manages to earn straight A’s while pursuing a double major in hospitality and business at Kauai Community College. Though it can be challenging at times to find balance in her life, she says it’s worth the effort.
“Showing my children that it is achievable, being able to balance being a mother full time and going to school full time, they can look up to me as a role model,” she says.
The Kapaa resident was the first of five students to receive the Déjà Vu Surf Hawaii Scholarship, in partnership with Hawaii Community Foundation, last year, supplementing her pursuit of a higher education.
“It helped tremendously,” says Waiwaiole-Vega regarding the $1,000 award.
The scholarship was established last year by M. Miura Store Inc., which owns and operates Déjà Vu Surf Hawaii in Kapaa and Kukui Grove Center, as well as Quiksilver/Roxy in Poipu. The fund requires that recipients are residents of Kauai, and preference is given to students who have been in foster care, with second preference to students who are the first generation in their families to acquire a college education.
“We wanted to give back to our community and also celebrate and support student success here on Kauai,” says Sara Miura, director of sales and marketing for Déjà Vu Surf Hawaii.
Waiwaiole-Vega is the first in her family to attend college, and what makes her journey even more inspiring is that she decided to do so more than a decade after she graduated from Kauai High School in 2000.
She says it’s never too late to go back to school.
“It’s something that can be done and you can only benefit from it,” she says, adding that her classmates are of all ages. “I didn’t think I’d do as well as I’m currently doing. Who would have known 15 years later?”
Instead of heading straight to college after high school, she started a family at 19 and went directly into the workforce.
“College was never really a thought at the time,” says Waiwaiole-Vega, who, with husband Chad, a St. Regis employee, has three children — Jaeda (15), Rory (10) and Presley (6).
She started working at Kalaheo Steak House as a hostess and server, and soon after transitioned into the hospitality industry, where she steadily climbed the ranks to her current position as assistant resort manager with Castle Resorts and Hotels.
“I worked my way up to the position that I’m in now, but I think having that education will take me a step further,” she says.
The decision to return to school came after she helped her stepdaughter Kendra settle into her first year at San Jose State University.
“Taking her to school, I was in awe of the campus and just the journey she was about to experience,” she says. “I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time for me to go back to school finally.’ All my girlfriends left for college and I was the only one who stayed back and started a family quite early.”
Her goal is to be the general manager of a resort.
“My position now and my education will hopefully prepare me for that next step,” she says.
One thing is certain, she admits: Without the scholarships awarded to her this school year, which included another $1,000 through HCF, it would have been difficult for her to afford classes.
“It’s rewarding to be able to get an education without needing to worry about the burden of taking on student loans,” she says.
Now Waiwaiole-Vega encourages others to achieve their educational ambitions by applying for scholarships online. One application, which includes a personal statement and essay, through the HCF website, is submitted to more than 200 scholarships.
“Just give it a shot, you never know,” she says. “It definitely opened a lot of doors for me.”
Waiwaiole-Vega, who loves to wind down by spending time with her family and friends, is incredibly thankful for Déjà Vu Surf Hawaii’s generosity and continues to stay in touch with Miura.
“She’s a fine example of the ability to balance her responsibilities at home and work and to seek higher education. We’re absolutely thrilled to support students like Jennie,” says Miura. “We’re so proud of her and we’re so inspired by her commitment to learn.”
Scholarship applications for the 2016-2017 school year are due by Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. Visit hawaiicommunityfoundation.org to apply for awards like the Déjà Vu Surf Hawaii Scholarship.