The Georgia E. Morikawa Center (GEM) – Decades in the Making




The Board of Directors of the Georgia E. Morikawa Center (GEM) pose for a photo at the celebration event held on January 17, 2016. Standing from left to right: Scott O’Neal, Sabina Wilford, Karl Mikasa, Carol Young, Colin Whited, Patty Sakal, Cassandra Berg, Kristine Pagano, and the Hon. Colleen Hanabusa

It’s only been 45 years in the making.

On January 17, 2016, nearly 200 members of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community gathered at the Ala Moana Hotel to celebrate the announcement of the Georgia E. Morikawa Center (GEM). The event was also streamed live over the internet to an additional 60 additional participants (view the livestream at GEM is a newly-established not-for-profit that is of, by, and for Hawai’i’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community.

When asked about the history of the center, those who’ve been around longest point to the center’s namesake, the late Georgia Morikawa. She was an endeared “Mom” to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community of Hawaii for over 50 years. She was also the rallying point behind the dream of such a center, the plans for which began in 1971.

“Today is a very special event for our community, especially to see this community come together hand-in-hand, to share Aloha, to erase all of the lines that separate us so we can all work in partnership to build a stronger community,” said Patty Sakal, Morikawa’s daughter, who is also a co-founder and board member of GEM.

“My mother’s gift was that she didn’t think being Deaf was a problem whatsoever; instead, she saw Deafness as a gift in and of itself.”

The mission of GEM is to:

  • Empower deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, including those with additional disabilities, to live independently and productively in a multicultural community.
  • Educate and increase awareness of the various communication needs, abilities, and successes of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing, including those with additional disabilities.
  • Advocate for equal access to all services for the deaf and hard of hearing, including those with additional disabilities.

“It became very obvious to me the most important thing that the Center will mean to those of us who are hearing is that the Center will give us an opportunity to be among [those who are Deaf], to learn and to understand what it means to be in your own shoes,” said GEM Board Member Colleen Hanabusa while addressing the community at the event.

Hanabusa recognized the various needs within the community and urged everyone to pull together behind the Center.

“This is a community that we have ignored for too long, and this is a community that has struggled. And it is time for us to all make a difference,” Hanabusa said. “But for us to make a difference, you must also work together. And that is what Hawai’i is all about; it is about relationships.”

GEM’s current focus is to develop its organizational plan and create partnerships within the community to ensure that the various needs of Hawaii’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing are met. The Center looks forward to sharing updates on its progress as they become available.

For more information, visit GEM’s website at or send an email to