Brenna Flores from Chaminade University wins Chronicle’s $2,500 journalism scholarship

By Edna Bautista, Ed.D.
Journalism Scholarship Chair

Lady Bird Johnson once said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” This quote from the former First Lady of the United States, who was also a journalist and an environmentalist, describes Brenna Marie Flores, winner of the 2020 Hawaii Filipino Chronicle journalism scholarship, now in its second year.

Flores, whose last name means “flowers,” is the recipient of a $2,500 award from the Chronicle, which will financially help her complete her senior year at Chaminade University of Honolulu where she is majoring in communications with a minor in marketing.

“I feel extremely blessed and grateful for this opportunity,” Flores said. “This accomplishment brings me a lot of hope to finish my last year in college, especially during these unprecedented times.”

The global pandemic—and its negative impact on the economy and employment—has added to the struggles that college students face, especially when it affects their abilities to afford tuition payments. The Chronicle has established its scholarship program to give hope and financial assistance to hard-working and talented local Filipino students like Flores, so they have the opportunity to finish their degrees and grow Hawaii’s work force in the media field.

“We need future Fil-Am writers and leaders in the field of journalism and mass communications (JMC). We are short of Filipino journalists who will continue our work and serve the Filipinos and our community-at-large in the future,” said Chona Montesines Sonido, publisher and managing editor of the Chronicle.

As a budding writer, Flores’ scholarship win represents hope for Hawaii’s future in the JMC field. After she graduates in May 2021, she will join the pool of the state’s media professionals and become a role model for others of Filipino heritage considering careers in communications. Even though she is part-Filipino, Flores is proud to know that her ancestral roots from the Philippines gave her a strong work ethic in all that she does.

Flores, who hails from Waipahu, is the daughter of Benjamin and Regina Flores, a stevedore and Catholic school teacher, respectively. She has two older sisters, Sage and Breanne, and two younger brothers, Brayden and Bransen.

“I am 50% Filipino from my dad’s side, 50% Portuguese from my mom’s side,” Flores said. “I’m a ‘PortuPino’ as my mother calls my siblings and me!”

She believes that the beauty of Hawaii is not just from the land but also from the people. She compared the “aloha” spirit to the “bayanihan” concept: “We thrive off of unity and embrace cooperation with our neighbors and those around us,” she explained. “Through writing and reporting, my goal is to continue to express the beauty of ethnic diversity in Hawaii and continue to uplift all the Filipinos and local people out there who are working long hours and are sacrificing their time and efforts to make a living,” Flores said.

Flores credits all of her Chaminade professors, especially Dr. Clifford Bieberly, chair of the communications department, and Kim Baxter, her journalism teacher, for helping her hone her skills so she can be more effective as a writer and tell better stories about the people of Hawaii, whether through traditional print, broadcast or online, in her future communications career.

“I hope my writing and storytelling skills will benefit Hawaii’s local people and ethnically diverse community because there is so much more to so many people, and I think it’s really important to uncover that by making the people around you feel comfortable,” she said. “Writing for ‘The Silversword,’ (Chaminade’s student newspaper online), I was able to learn how much stronger your story can be when you choose to schedule a live interview with someone and really get to experience one’s body language and expressions. I am usually an extroverted-introvert but through the student newspaper, I continue to learn how to step out of my comfort zone and build that personal connection with my interviewee.”

Flores hopes to find a job, possibly at a nonprofit organization, that would allow her to write and tell stories about people helping others or about those who are actually making a positive difference in society.

Giving back to others is natural for Flores, since she grew up in a family that serves the community with random acts of kindness.

“I especially enjoy time together with my family when we cook and distribute food to those who are less unfortunate than us. On Good Fridays, my family and I would drive to the Kaka’ako area to distribute food to those in need. If we had extras, we would also drive to spots like Ala Moana Beach Park, Magic Island and Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu,” Flores recalled. “We do not participate with a specific charity or organization. Instead, we just drive around as a family and give food and drinks to those in need. We distributed 150 plates of chili with hot dogs last year!”

The pandemic prevented the Flores family from doing their charity work this year but hopes to continue the tradition again when it is safe for everyone.

Like Lady Bird Johnson, Flores also cares deeply about environmental issues “because this land is something that we do not own. Nature and environment were generously shared with us by our Creator. Therefore, it is not our property so we must respect it as we do with other people’s belongings.”

She added, “As a 20-year-old, I think about my future children and their children, and I do not want them to live on an Earth that is filled with pollution and climate change. There have been so many people inhabiting our Earth before me and there will be so many more people inhabiting it after me, so we need to take care of it.”

Professor Bieberly especially noted Flores’ commitment to caring about climate change. He said, “During spring semester 2020, she teamed up with students in our Environmental Studies program to create a successful Climate Action Video Competition. Not only did she make substantial contributions to crafting the messaging, her design for a logo and t-shirt image won by a wide margin.”

But beyond her college campus, Flores hopes to do more for the environment.

“I wish I could do bigger things and join more organizations that are committed to benefiting Hawaii’s land. But for now, I just do the small things that I can to limit carbon footprint factors, such as hanging clothes instead of drying them or picking up litter when I see it. I also try to recycle whatever I can and limit my trash and plastic waste. In the future, I would love to volunteer or work with nonprofit organizations that are committed to cleaning up waste and trash all over the island,” she said.

Flores’ essay, also published in this edition of the Chronicle, describes more about her environmental endeavors.

Besides studying hard to maintain a 3.47 GPA, Flores multi-tasks in a variety of extra-curricular activities, “blooming wherever is she planted”.

She works part-time as an after-school care monitor at Holy Family Catholic Academy to earn a little money to pay for textbooks and school supplies.

“During this pandemic, Holy Family is one of the few elementary schools open for in-person learning, and I am grateful to be receiving work and money at this time,” she said.

Flores is also an intern at Hawaii Theater Center where she is applying her communications and marketing education to write news releases about the nonprofit organization’s activities.

She participates in Basic Christian Community of Hawaii, a Catholic lay movement, which allows her to give back, serve others, and bring Christianity to those seeking.

She won an Honorable Mention in the All-Star girls’ soccer team for Damien Memorial School (Class of 2017). Her hobbies include spending time with her family, lifting weights at the gym, watching TV and movies and reading fictional books.

Professor Bieberly summed up Flores’ well-roundedness: “Brenna is a very adaptable, multi-talented, thoughtful person who will go far and represent the kind of ideals that will make the world a better place.”

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