Children’s voices ring confidently within Bay Terrace’s Community Engagement Center as Ala Talo leads her class through a Samoan chant, clapping and hitting the table with a steady beat. The children are currently learning to count to five, repeating after Ala as she counts.

Tasi, lua, tolu, fā, lima,” the group of children counts, with their voices becoming less hesitant after each repetition.

As she claps her hands and leads the kids through their counting chant, Ala wears a T-shirt with the Hearts for Kids logo on it, a large, black handprint with a beautiful white and red pattern resting in the palm. According to Ala, the logo is inspired by her grandmother, who told her that “everywhere you go, you need to leave a handprint, because when you do, you leave a blessing. When you open your hands, you are either giving or receiving.”

Ala brings this lesson with her to every session of her program.

Education and Empowerment

Hearts for Kids started July 9, 2010, as an after-school program founded by three women who worked for a nonprofit that served students. While the trio believed in the mission of the organization, they found that there was something lacking in the relationship that was built with the parents. As such, when they were let go, the trio wanted to start their own program that heavily emphasized the parents’ involvement and voice.

As such, their mission was to encourage students to stay in school but also to see the good that they have in them. They also aimed to educate parents and the community on how to come together to support their children, so that they could help them feel empowered.

Ala eventually decided to carry on Hearts for Kids as a cultural teaching dance group. Ala looks to teach her students about culture, whether through dancing, counting in another language, or even teaching them about the day-to-day life of a child their age in Samoa. In doing so, she hopes to build each child’s confidence.

Ala Talo explains the significance of the lavalava and necklaces made from boar’s tusks, both extremely significant in Samoan culture, and shows her class how they are typically worn.

The Tacoma Housing Authority

Ala is enthusiastic about the space provided by the Tacoma Housing Authority at Bay Terrace, pointing out ideas for future after-school programs in the community spaces not only at Bay Terrace but across all of the neighborhoods that are served.

“We can use that room for a tea party and invite kids to come in with their moms and just have some inspirational speakers,” she says, gesturing across the hall, “and then they have a playground outside, and I’m like, ‘wow. This is awesome.’”

Performing On Stage

While Ala admits that her group does not necessarily fit in with most people’s idea of a Pacific Islander dance group, she says that she is always grateful when local festivals and events give her group the opportunity to perform, because it allows the children to dance and shine on stage.

“They’re investing in our kids,” she says. “If there’s an opportunity to showcase – I don’t care if you’ve practiced with me once, I’m going to put you on that stage. Because when you feel good about yourself then have the crowd encourage and inspire you…that means more to me than getting the choreography together.”

More Information

To learn more about Hearts for Kids and the events that they attend, visit their Facebook page at or contact Ala directly at

To learn more about the Tacoma Housing Authority, their mission, and the communities that they serve, visit