2014 Corpsmember of the Year, Jon Brito

Jon Brito
AmeriCorps member - KUPU - Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps
Molokai, HI


The island of Molokai, Hawaii has fewer than 7,400 residents. Much of the population is of Hawaiian descent and many people still rely heavily on subsistence agriculture. The island has no traffic lights, no major stores and just one high school. Life on Molokai is slow-paced and pleasant, but the island offers few opportunities and is home to the highest unemployment rate in Hawaii (11.4% in October 2013, compared to a state unemployment rate of 4.4%). However, this statistic has never discouraged 2014 Corpsmember of the Year Jon Brito.

Jon grew up in the town of Kualapu’u, located roughly in the center of the island. After graduating from Molokai High School in 2008, Jon immersed himself in the world of environmental conservation as an AmeriCorps member with KUPU’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC). Upon completing his term with HYCC, Jon travelled to California to attend Humboldt State University. Inspired by his Corps, he enrolled in Humboldt’s Environmental Resources Engineering program. In 2012, Jon decided to take a year off from school so he could return home to gain work experience and earn money. Remembering how much he enjoyed his time with HYCC, Jon took a position with the program as an AmeriCorps team leader.

“…I enjoyed going away to college, [but] I really felt my calling here at home in Hawaii,” said Jon. “I got some amazing work experience and network connections, but I decided to transfer home to be in a program geared towards working in and benefitting Hawaii.”

Spending the summer mentoring Molokai youth as an AmeriCorps member was an empowering experience for Jon. He excelled as a team leader and served as a positive role model for HYCC Corpsmembers in whose place he had stood just four years earlier.

Jon had found his place in the Corps. At the end of the summer, he decided to continue his service by accepting a year-long AmeriCorps position with HYCC. He spent the 2012-2013 term as an intern at Ka Honua Momona (KHM), a Molokai-based nonprofit that seeks to revitalize natural and cultural resources and create connections between the Hawaiian people, their heritage and the environment. All the while, Jon continued to spread the word about HYCC and encouraged Molokai youth to join the Corps.

During Jon’s year-long internship with KHM, KUPU was unable to find a suitable team leader for the summer 2013 HYCC Molokai program. Knowing the fate of the program was at stake, Jon volunteered to put his internship on hold and subsequently served as the HYCC team leader for the second year in a row. At the end of the summer, he picked up where he had left at Ka Honua Momona and successfully completed his internship.

Jon currently lives on the island of Maui, where he attends the University of Hawaii, Maui College. He is enrolled in the school’s Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology program and plans to one day use his education to help Hawaii reach energy independence. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010 Hawaii imported some 94% of its energy and had the highest electricity prices in the United States.

“I strongly feel that the future of Hawaii depends on locally produced energy and goods,” said Jon. “From reducing our carbon footprint, to [ensuring] energy and food security; this is our future and what we will leave to the next generation.”

In addition to his school responsibilities, Jon serves as an energy efficiency and agriculture intern with KUPU’s vocational training program, RISE. In this position, Jon works with Maui’s business and agriculture sectors to improve the sustainability of their operations.

As his supervisors say, “Jon has a heart of gold and is a truly selfless person with all the right intentions.” As the only KUPU Corpsmember to have served in the RISE program as well as three HYCC programs, it goes without saying that Jon is dedicated to Corps and environmental sustainability.

“I believe with an absolution that only good comes out of what Corps do,” said Jon. “It is my firm belief that Corps empower people to do good in this world.”

Boiler Plate: 
As his supervisors say, “Jon has a heart of gold and is a truly selfless person with all the right intensions.” As the only KUPU Corpsmember to have served in the RISE program as well as three HYCC programs, it goes without saying that Jon is dedicated to Corps and environmental sustainability.

Photos from the Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative Day in West Virginia

Check out these photos from last week's Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative. The project, led by Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, involved the completion of 350 service projects in five days throughout southern West Virginia. Held in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America's annual Jamboree, the event brought together Corpsmembers from CCCWV, KUPU - Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, Northwest Piedmont Service Corps, and AmeriCorps NCCC.

Click here to read more about the event. 




Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia Enlists Help from Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps NCCC for Boy Scout Jamboree, 2013 Reach the Summit Initiative

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin takes a moment for a photo with Corpsmembers and staff from Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia and KUPU / Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps.

Click here to see more photos from the event

For one of their most ambitious projects to date, the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia (CCCWV) agreed to lead the 2013 Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative, which will see the completion of over 350 service projects in southern West Virginia this week. According to the organizers of the initiative, "it's the nation's largest community service project of its kind in U.S. history."  

"The Initiative is remarkable and the most significant project of its kind in our nation's history," said Robert A. Martin, CEO, Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia. "Moving forward, what we accomplish over these five days of service will be a shining example of what can be accomplished when we all work together."

So who's helping out? The Boy Scouts of America are hosting their annual Jamboree in conjunction with the event, with an estimated 40,000 scouts descending upon West Virginia for fun and service. Most of the approved work includes outdoor construction, renovation, painting, landscaping or clean-up efforts. The projects are located at cemeteries, parks, schools, humane societies, historic landmarks, ball fields, and other community gathering places.

Knowing they had their hands full, CCCWV also turned to some of their best friends and partners to help out. On Tuesday, the arrival of KUPU's Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps crew caused quite a splash at the airport, where according to Charleston Gazette reporter Laura Reston, "the teenagers wore yellow leis Tuesday at the gate at Yeager and voiced a Hawaiian chant called an "Oli" to commemorate the entrance to a sacred place..." Noting the strong environmental connection many of the Corpsmembers feel coming from their state, Reston quoted Corpsmember Joshua Bailey-Belista as saying, "If you take care of the land, 'the land will take care of you.'" They also had a chance to meet the Governor of West Virginia before heading out to Pipestem State Park.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National & Community Service has also headed to the event to tour sites and volunteer. Numerous crews from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps are also there to help execute and supervise projects.

Mary Ellen Ardouny, President & CEO of The Corps Network, the national association of Service and Conservation Corps will also attend. "This is an amazing event and a large share of the credit should go to Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia which has worked for more than two years to pull this event off seamlessly and by engaging a wide number of partners."


Boiler Plate: 
For one of their most ambitious projects to date, the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia (CCCWV) agreed to lead the 2013 Reach the Summit Initiative, which will see the completion of over 350 service projects in southern West Virginia this week. According to the organizers of the initiative, "it's the nation's largest community service project of its kind in U.S. history."

KUPU featured in Pacific Business News


Photo from Pacific Business News

KUPU was featured in a recent edition of Pacific Business NewsClick below for a PDF version of the full article. Congratulations, KUPU!

By Jenna Blakely
Pacific Business News
March 22, 2013

Nurturing the state’s next generation of environmental workers has become increasingly important in order to fill jobs needed for Hawaii’s rapidly growing green sector, a responsibility that Kupu has incorporated into its mission.

The local nonprofit teaches sustainability to Hawaii’s youth through hands-on service programs and internship opportunities. Kupu — the name means to sprout or grow in the Hawaiian language — formed in 2007, but traces its roots to 2001 when the program was part of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Since 2007, it has evolved into offering four main programs that serve about 300 youth ... Read more

A KUPU Intern Shares his Passion for Nature and Photography


From KUPU - Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps 

Chris Wong is one of Kupu’s current 2012-2013 EIP interns (the EIP Program falls under the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps). He is based on Hawaii Island, working with the USDA Forest Service. Chris has played an active role in keeping EIP interns connected 

throughout their term of service, and is currently organizing the second-ever AmeriCorps EIP gathering on the Big Island, at Hakalau Forest and Kanakaleonui Bird Corridor atop Mauna Kea. Chris is an avid wildlife and nature photographer as well -- check out

 a few of his photos from the field (scrolling photos at the top of the page - all photos owned by Chris Wong). 

Throughout his EIP internship Chris has spent a lot of time in the field doing conservation-related management activities, however the most rewarding part of his experience to date has been the opportunity to educate local youth about conserving Hawaii’s natural resources and native species. Kupu asked Chris to describe his internship thus far, and here is what he had to say:

“Since beginning my internship at the US Forest Service, I’ve worked with many projects. I’ve floundered head high in an uluhe/clidemia forest, measured native trees in Kona, tracked rats in the Saddle Road Kipuka and even helped restore the forest at Hakalau. Being in the field is definitely enjoyable and so has applying my horticulture degree in the greenhouse, but the most enjoyable and rewarding experience has been the educational experience. I currently help out with a project called Teaching Change and have taken on my own project called Ulu Lehulehu- the Million Ohia Initiative. Both projects involve working with students in local schools and there, I get to see them excited about the forest. This is especially true with Ulu Lehulehu; I’ve been doing summer internships for four summers now, but being able to pass on knowledge to the next generation is what sets this internship apart from the previous ones. A recent presentation (on March 5th 2013) was no exception. The 6th graders seemed so excited to be planting their own ʻŌhiʻa seeds The fact that they were answering all of my questions correctly and throwing a couple at me told me that the students were excited about ʻŌhiʻa too. To top it off, after the presentation, the teacher telling me that reviewing the scientific method actually covered what he would be doing in a couple of weeks brought it all together and told me that at least today, I did something right.”

Chris is a great example of someone who has found an interest in the environment, and took advantage of the stepping stone-like pathway Kupu has created. He joined HYCC in 2008 as a Gateway team member, returned in 2009 as a Frontiers intern, and is now halfway to finishing his 2012 EIP internship. Chris graduated from the University of Hawaii at Hilo with a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture, and has just been accepted to the University of Washington’s Master of Environmental Horticulture program. Congratulations Chris, Kupu’s March Spotlight!




2013 Corps Legacy Achievement Award winner, Ira Okun

Much of Ira Okun’s career has been dedicated to serving youth and improving communities. Ira began his career as a caseworker for Los Angeles County in 1955. He eventually became a probation officer, and later served as the Superintendant of Marin County’s Juvenile Hall. After years of working in the youth correctional field, however, Ira decided he wanted to work in prevention programs.

Following his service as the Deputy Director of Peace Corps operations in Ghana from 1968 to 1971, Ira took a series of leadership positions at various California-based nonprofit organizations serving youth and families. For more than four years he was the Executive Director of the Charila Foundation, which offered a residential program for troubled teenage girls. He also spent over two years as the Executive Director of Coleman Children and Youth Services, advocating for neglected and abused children. Ira then spent 13 years serving as the CEO of Family Service Agency of San Francisco, a multi-program human service agency with over 16,000 clients in 28 different service systems.

After Ira retired from the Family Service Agency in 1990, he formed Nonprofit Organization Services. Through NPOS, Ira has spent the last two decades consulting numerous nonprofit organizations, including The Corps Network and many individual Corps. Ira provided the impetus and foundational work for the development of The Corps Network’s Excellence in Corps Operations (ECO) Standards Process. In 1993, Ira became the founding president of the California Association of Local Conservation Corps (CALCC), which has allowed the California Corps movement to double in size from 7 Corps at CALCC’s inception to the 14 Corps located throughout California today. CALCC has been an effective advocate for Corps and has helped generate much needed income for improving and expanding programs for at-risk youth.

Ira has earned his reputation as the preeminent national expert and consultant to the Corps community in areas such as strategic planning, growth management, and organizational development. Beginning in 1993, Ira has made annual visits to consult with Civic Works in Baltimore. His insight and suggestions have helped improve Civic Works’ programs, operating mechanisms, and finances. Ira’s wisdom has also been beneficial to the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps. His guidance helped the executive team of HYCC develop a larger non-profit called KUPU, which today serves thousands of individuals in Hawaii.

In addition to his service to Civic Works and HYCC, Ira has had a major impact on the development of numerous other Corps programs, including San Francisco Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa, American YouthWorks, Los Angeles Conservation Corps,Utah Conservation Corps, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, and the Colorado Youth Corps Association. He also long been someone The Corps Network has turned to for suggestions.

Ira has graciously provided his wisdom and experience to so many, and his actions have created tremendous ripples in the conservation and non-profit communities nationwide. His life has impacted thousands and thousands of individuals who are probably not even aware of his numerous and significant contributions to the Corps movement.  As said by John Leong, Executive Director of KUPU, “Ira is a living gem.”


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2008 Corpsmember of the Year, Linnea Heu


Linnea Heu, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2008 for her commitment to service and environmental conservation. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Linnea and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2008 national conference.

Linnea Heu wasn’t always interested in environmentalism. Her decision to join the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) in 2005 after her freshman year of high school was motivated mainly by a desire to return to the island of Kaho’olawe. Linnea knew that first year AmeriCorps interns with YCC had the chance to participate in Kaho’olawe’s “regreening” process. The island sustained serious damage when it was used as a military live-fire training ground during WWII, but now its ecosystem is in recovery. Linnea had once visited Kaho’olawe on a school trip and felt a strong desire to return to this place that is currently only used for native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual purposes.

Now, after more than seven years since that first summer with YCC, Linnea can look back and appreciate how her experience with the Corps helped shape who she is today. Linnea has always been interested in science, but it was her time with YCC that steered her towards environmentalism.

When I was really young I used to think I was going to be a veterinarian or a zoologist. Then I started wanting to study botany and I even thought I might get into agriculture at one point,” said Linnea. “And then it was after my freshman year of high school that I got into [YCC] for the first time and that’s when I started to learn that I wanted to work in environmental sciences and restoration. Botany is still along those lines, but YCC definitely helped to guide me and focus my choices post high school.”

Linnea earned her bachelors’ degree in environmental science in 2012 and is currently a graduate student at University of Hawaii at Hilo, where she is studying how phytoplankton in the ocean is affected by nutrient-rich runoff from the land.

Linnea has never studied marine life before. After her first summer with YCC, during which she had the opportunity to work with numerous organizations and agencies, she returned to YCC for a second summer to work exclusively with the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Lāwa’i. She later returned to the Botanical Gardens after her senior year of high school for another internship that was independent of YCC. Linnea’s background might be with terrestrial plants, but she doesn’t feel like studying phytoplankton is too big of a change.

“It’s different, but it’s not. I’m really just moving on to another part of the same system,” said Linnea. “Everything is all connected and it’s a lot easier to see in an island ecosystem where things are so small and compact. What I’m doing has everything to do with terrestrial restoration because whatever happens upland of the marine systems you’re looking at has a huge impact. All of that groundwater is impacted by whatever is happening on the island. It’s all connected.”

Looking back on her time with YCC, Linnea says the experience that had the greatest impact on her was working in the 10-month-long program between finishing college and starting grad school. She liked being able to get into a routine and become comfortable with her abilities as a researcher. She liked how her supervisors could trust her enough to send her out on her own to collect data. But Linnea definitely still considers her first two summers with YCC to be very formative experiences.

“There are just a lot of good skills I learned and I got an introduction to a lot of things I’d never thought about before in terms of conservation,” she said.

Linnea is not entirely sure what she wants to do when she’s done with grad school, but she knows she wants to get involved in environmental advocacy and resource management. She wants to keep learning and do research that is significant for both the environment and the people of Hawaii.

“As I got older I realized how connected the environment and the culture are,” said Linnea. “I’m very interested in continuing to learn about Hawaiian culture. There’s been a push lately in the sciences locally to integrate cultural components into your research. That’s awesome to see and that’s definitely something I want to do. I think it’s important for scientists to put in context the research they’re doing. Sometimes we remove ourselves from it, but really there are people who are very connected to the resources we’re trying to protect.”

To young people thinking of joining a Corps, Linnea says:

“Be absolutely open to all of the experiences that you’re going to have. If you go into it with a bad mindset, you’re not going to get everything out of it that you could. It is such an opportunity, so you want to be open to the whole experience. Maybe you’re not going to agree with the attitudes or approaches of all of the agencies and organizations you work with, but just keep an open mind and take it all in. The more you take in, the better able you are to develop your own opinions.”


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year Mari Takemoto-Chock

Mari Takemoto-Chock, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for her commitment to service. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Mari and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2011 national conference.

Mari Takemoto-Chock is certainly not one to just sit around. In August 2011, almost immediately after finishing her AmeriCorps VISTA term with KUPU – the organization that runs the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps – Mari flew to New York for her first semester as a graduate student at NYU. She received her master’s degree in the spring of 2013.

Mari’s experiences at KUPU are part of what inspired her to study gender and race in graduate school. During her year with KUPU, Mari was instrumental in creating an Urban Corps to provide job training and life skills education for Honolulu’s under-resourced youth. Mari was struck by how a large proportion of the Corpsmembers at KUPU were Native Hawaiian. What did it mean that they all came from a certain minority group? Mari says her graduate studies have helped her look with a critical lens at questions about race and inequality. After Mari graduates in May 2013, she says she will probably attend law school. She is not entirely sure what she wants to do with a law degree, but she hopes to one day work for an organization like the Legal Aid Society. She says there's also a possibility she will return to Capitol Hill; between college and her AmeriCorps term, Mari worked on energy, environmental, and education issues as part of the legislative staff for a member of the Hawaii delegation. Though Mari is still very much interested in environmental issues, she says her main interest, and what will probably shape her future career, are the issues surrounding at-risk youth. 

Looking back on her time at KUPU, Mari says her experiences not only inspired her studies in graduate school. She says that helping build the Urban Corps provided excellent exposure to how programs are developed, implemented, and maintained.

“I got a really good, broad overview …from funding to developing to implementing and devising policy,” said Mari. “And then also the day-to-day of managing behavior and discipline. I think the thing I took away the most was that broad overview.”

Mari says her Corps experience also helped her think in a whole new way. She feels that if she had not joined the Corps, she would probably still be on Capitol Hill thinking about issues from a political perspective.

Mari maintains close contact with people at KUPU. She goes to the Corps to visit her former coworkers whenever she gets a chance. She also frequently checks the Corps’ Facebook and Twitter pages to stay posted on what kinds of projects they’re working on.

To youth considering joining a Service or Conservation Corps, Mari says:

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for self-reflection and self-development. So I would say to be really open to that. I think just being out in nature is a good opportunity – for some reason it inspires a lot of self-reflection. Not many people get the chance to spend that much time out in nature. So I would say to really take advantage of that.”



2011 Capitol Hill Awards Ceremony


U.S. Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (third from left) poses with the staff of KUPU, who operate the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps and the newer Urban Corps. Corpsmember of the Year Mari-Takemoto Chock is third from the right.

On Wednesday morning Forum attendees made their way to the Cannon House Office building to honor The Corps Network’s 2011 Congressional and Federal Champions. Many Congressional Representatives and staffers took time to express their appreciation and support. U.S. Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) came to receive an award but also honored Mari Takemoto-Chock, a former member of her staff who was also honored as a Corpsmember of the Year. Congresswoman Hirono pledged her support for the Youth Corps Act and soon thereafter introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives.

Watch Video about the Mission and Projects of KUPU and the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps

From the KUPU website and YouTube page.

The kupukupu fern is one of the first plants to bring life back to areas devastated by lava flows. In Hawaiian, the word kupu means “to sprout, grow, germinate or increase.” This makes KUPU a fitting name for Hawaii’s leading Youth Conservation Corps.

Watch this video to learn more about KUPU’s mission “to bring life back to the people, the land, and the ocean,” and learn about their plans to turn a property once used by the fishing industry into a new center where KUPU members can meet. Hear from KUPU members and alumni, and see some of the beautiful landscapes this organization works to protect.