7 Questions with Gina Carroll

This article is part of a new series of interviews with Corps Staff members.

Gina Carroll is the Director of Conservation Programming for Kupu, operators of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps. She talks about her experience working at the Corps, the challenges faced by Hawaii's youth, and Kupu's culture of being pono.

1. What are some of the projects that your Corps is working on right now that excite you the most?

The Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps is 1 of 4 major programs within Kupu. Currently we are working to provide Community U, a program designed for disconnected young adults, program structure and long-term funding. 21st Century Conservation Service Corps projects in the Hawaii Volcano National Park and the Haleakala National Park give Kupu the opportunity to increase our reach into the middle schools to improve awareness of the National Park System in their own neighborhood.

2. What kinds of careers are typically available in your neck of the woods for Corpsmembers?

Careers range from food service, tourism, construction, volunteer coordinators, wildlife technicians, field technicians, park directors and program coordinators. In the past 2 years, we were able to bring on 6 of our own Corpsmembers into staff positions.    

3. What are some of the most typical problems you face when working with Corpsmembers, and how do you solve them?

Many of our members have little to no family support. They often lack motivation and direction and many are without any sense of work ethic. Poor attendance, chronic tardiness, and poor communication skills are all common issues. I’m not sure we ever solve the problem, however we do try to reduce the barriers or excuses. Asking why they are chronically late will probably evoke an excuse. Asking what is going on at home that is making them chronically late will evoke an answer that is closer to the truth. We do our best to set them up for success by eliminating as much of the barriers/excuses as possible. When problems persist, there might be a ‘special’ barrier they need assistance in removing. 

4. What’s something about your organizational culture that you are proud of and something you want to improve?

Kupu culture prides itself on being pono. Pono is the Hawaiian word for righteous, upright and moral. We teach this value formally through orientations and trainings, and informally through the way we conduct ourselves day to day. Pono is the guidance we use when there is no clear rule, it’s the unspoken guide, ‘is this right?’ ‘Did we decided correctly on this?’ I hope that when it is all said and done, and the job is complete, people can say Kupu did the right thing.

One thing I’d like to improve? I’d like some time to find ways to best support our staff in their own personal development. They spend so much time and intentional energy into creating amazing programs each year that to me, change lives. Their efforts touch the lives of hundreds of members each year that ultimately create a stronger community. There are not enough ways to let them know how much they are appreciated and how much better our future will be because of them.

5. What’s your favorite kind of terrain and why (Beach, mountain, forest, lake, tundra, etc…)?

I honestly cannot say I have a favorite terrain because growing up in Hawaii, these parts of home all have a purpose in balancing my life. However, my most recent epic field experience is on the slopes of Haleakala on the island of Mau’i. Being flown in (and out) by helicopter to the 5,000 ft. elevation of this dormant volcano was breathtaking. Our team worked in this area for 5 days at a time alongside amazing trees that were 100s of years old. Planting native seedlings on a 30-40% grade, in 50 degree cloud cover with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean is my newly experienced terrain. Why? Besides the obvious beauty of the landscape, working in the mist and gazing across the ocean toward the snow capped mountains of the neighboring island brings more than dew to your brow. The work will bring tears to your eyes and peace in your heart knowing that you have just planted your contribution to a future you will probably never see.

6. What’s something accessible to the masses (a movie, tv show, song, book, event) that has inspired or influenced you recently?

“If you’re out there” by John Legend. ... be the change we want to see. I am also inspired by the many video clips on YouTube and photos on Instagram created by our members that remind me of the importance of what we do.

7. What’s one of the best pieces of advice a mentor has given you?  

There is a plan and purpose for your life. Be intentional and don’t give up until you know you found it.

Previous Interviews in this Series

Michael Muckle of the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg

Boiler Plate: 
This article is part of a new series of interviews with Corps Staff members. Gina Carroll is the Director of Conservation Programming for Kupu, operators of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps. She talks about his experience working at the Corps, the challenges faced by Hawaii's youth, and Kupu's culture of being pono.

Kupu volunteers plant 20,000 trees for Arbor Day

Photo courtesy Kirsten Gallaher/DLNR

Kupu Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps' Arbor Day project received significant press coverage. In the weeks leading up to Arbor Day, volunteers planted 20,000 native trees in an effort to restore a deforested Natural Area Reserve. 


Press release (4/24/2015) - hawaii.gov - Department of Land and Natural Resources
By Deborah Ward

KAHULUI — “E ola ‛oe. E ola mâkou nei,” Malia Heimuli whispers as she removes a koa seedling from its container and buries its roots in the soft, dark earth. “It means you live, so we live.”

It’s fitting that in the weeks preceding Arbor Day – Friday April 24, groups of Kupu Hawai‛i Youth Conservation Corps volunteers have traveled to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife -run Nakula Natural Area Reserve (NAR) high on the leeward slopes of Haleakalâ. The aim of this partnership: planting 20,000 native trees to help bring life and water back to barren slopes damaged by non-native hooved animals. The catch: planting at a rate of around 2,800 trees a day to make use of $300,000 in federal grant money before the end of 2016. But the enthusiastic team of volunteers is up for the challenge.

Established in 2011, the Nakula NAR is an extraordinary landscape with a dramatic elevational change of 5,600 vertical feet in 2.5 miles. The mostly koa-dominated dryland forests are habitat for 9 species of endangered Hawaiian plants and 4 species of birds, including the Kiwikiu or Maui Parrotbill. With populations numbering only 500, it is now one of the rarest birds in the world. While no longer found here, the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project plans to start reintroducing Kiwikiu in 5 years’ time as an insurance policy to prevent extinction of the species.

Photo courtesy Kirsten Gallaher/DLNR

This ambitious plan relies on the revival of the forests. Along with those on the Big Island, the koa forests of leeward Haleakala were once the major source of logs for wa‛a (canoes) that supplied ancient Hawaiian voyagers. Where there was once a vast forest, a scarred landscape of invasive grass and red earth remains. In some places, entire chunks of the mountainside have been washed out onto the coral reefs below.

Gina Carroll, of Kupu Hawai‛i, points out the few remaining trees in the valleys, “When you see how large the koa trees are, you can imagine what it must have been like across the whole landscape. You cannot help but think what the trees would say if they could talk.”

According to Peter Landon, manager of the NAR System on Maui, “Pressure from ungulates is what really destroyed it all; the trees just couldn’t handle being trampled and eaten, and now the environment may be too dry for any of the seeds to establish. Back when it was a closed canopy forest, there used to be freshwater springs and streams that ran all the way to the ocean.” About Nakula he says, “This is really it. We are attempting to restore a forest in a small reserve of 1,400 acres, we’ve got Kanaio NAR (less than 900 acres) and that’s all we’re protecting from a dryland forest that used to span from Makawao to Kaupo; it’s kind of sad.”

Goats and cattle are still a dire threat to the remaining 5% of dryland forests on Maui. A helicopter flyover of a single ravine outside the boundary fence reveals hundreds of goats. The animals are present in such numbers that they overflow from rocky hiding places out onto the slopes. Fences hold back the onslaught from forests which are gradually being brought back to life by a dedicated team of a handful of Division of Forestry and Wildlife staff and dozens of volunteers. Without them the unique forests and birds, the very first inhabitants of Maui, will not return.

Photo courtesy Kirsten Gallaher/DLNR

Each morning starts with a steep climb from base camp up the slopes, where thousands of koa, ‛ô‛hia lehua, mamane and a‛ali‛i seedlings have been dropped by helicopter. The sun shines hot and bright, illuminating the rolling valleys stretching below to the sea. Within minutes, the view is whitewashed by clouds rolling in. Up here this is a daily occurrence. Tiny water droplets cling to the hairs on the volunteers’ skin and eventually fall to the ground, illustrating one of the reasons why Hawai’i’s upland forests are so crucial for ensuring healthy watersheds. Trees act as traps, condensing moisture from the clouds and recharging groundwater in what would otherwise be a dry habitat. It is predicted that bringing back the trees will one day return water to the dried up streambeds.

The volunteers form an outplanting assembly line, putting trees in the ground at an incredible rate. They are all interns under the Hawai‛i Youth Conservation Corps program, which places aspiring young conservationists at various environmental partner organizations. Many of the interns are inspired to channel their passion for nature into further studies or careers.

For Nôweo Kai, 33, something she’s valued during the program is, “the immersion: being completely surrounded 40 hours a week by individuals who actually share the same interests and passions as me”. When asked why she wants to conserve these areas, she replies, “There’s a foundation of place. I love – I am in love with – these islands. And I feel like the unique things that make up these islands biologically (and of course historically and culturally), that’s something that’s in the very core of me.”

Despite the lighthearted banter during outplanting, when they talk story around the campfire, every single person seems moved by the experience. Maeghan Castillo (25) describes it as “an experience so rare, it’s almost as if we are starting another chapter in our lives”. Gus Robertson (24) feels “profoundly humbled to be involved in this type of work. To think about this place before it was degraded, all rugged and wild, and to think about our grandkids being able to visit in 100 years when it will be a vibrant forest again, gives me a great sense of accomplishment and joy.”

Christopher Zauner, 18, articulates the sentiment shared by many: “Look how few people we are and how much we’re doing. Just imagine what a whole island could do…”

Jon Brito, 2014 Corpsmember of the Year, featured on AmeriCorps Alums blog

Kupu HYCC Team Molokai doing trail maintenance in Kamakou rainforest preserve with The Nature Conservancy

Service Learning - Connecting the Past and the Future in Hawaii
by Jon Brito

This blog originally appeared on the AmeriCorps Alums website, November 26, 2014

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Jon Brito. Born and raised on the island of Moloka’i, Jon served with the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (Summer 2012 and 2013) as a team leader. He also continued his conservation and restoration AmeriCorps service with Ka Honua Momona during the 2012-2013 year. Jon is now a student at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

Born and raised on the island of Molokai, I have the honor and privilege to have my moʻokūʻauhau trace back to the ancients of the past. Having served a variety of AmeriCorps terms, I am currently back in school pursuing an Electronic and Computer Engineering degree with a side study in GIS technology at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

I believe utilizing technology will give us a better grasp of where conservation and restoration is needed with precision to better address any issues. I also believe getting a little dirty and sweaty in the field is food for the soul! This is my experience as an Americorps recipient and service learner.

In the Hawaiian Language there is an ‘olelo noe’au, or wise saying, that goes “ma ka hana ka ‘ike, ma ka ‘ike ka mana” which translates to “it is in the doing that one learns.” This is a life thought that I have heard countless times growing up, yet it is only in my adulthood that I have really come closer to understanding. It is a mantra that I have learned and relearned time and time again over the course of various AmeriCorps opportunities.

In the summer of 2012, I desperately needed a life change from the monotony of university life in California and looked to return to my home island of Moloka’i. I had left the island life with prospects of advancing myself in the social ladder by moving away, however I found myself still missing something. I decided to move home and got the chance to be a team leader for Kupu Hawaii’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps where I led a team of four high school graduates to various worksites throughout Moloka’i and the state of Hawaii.  I had so much fun that the following summer I led a second team!

As a team leader it was my duty to motivate and facilitate my team safely through various service learning experience. We definitely worked in the extreme environments from the constant rain of the Kamakou Preserve Rainforest to the sun burnt desert of the island Kaho’olawe.

The majority of my job was keeping these young adults interested in the work that we were doing. To me it was not only showing them the benefit the work had on the ‘aina or land, but also on themselves. We were all learning more about ourselves, each other, and our culture.

Our ancestors had walked and swam these areas, taking care of and nurturing them. Something I tried to get across was that this duty to continue caring for the land and sea came in part as an inheritance from the ancients before us. But, as future ancestors, this duty was also inspired by our need to pass down something worthy to the next generation. A lot of work has been put into the conservation of our natural resources, and it is something that needs to continue to be done.

I also served an AmeriCorps term as a year-long intern for the 2012-2013 year at the non-profit Ka Honua Momona. Ka Honua Momona is tasked with restoring two 500 year-old, thirty acre fishponds from pre-contact Hawaii to operating condition. Being part of the intern team I was charged with removing invasive non-native and maintenance of the pond walls . The work was dirty and wet, yet extremely fulfilling. To be apart of such a magnificent movement of Hawaiians getting out and working to to restore pono to our land and sea is truly a humbling opportunity.

If my AmeriCorps opportunity could be summed up into one word it would be this: more. Even after my time as a Corps member ended, I still wanted more. To continue to contribute and partake in the restoration and conservation of our valuable natural resources is still something that I do every chance I get. I have changed my uniform from the weekday adventurer to the weekend volunteer. While it is not a full time occupation for me (yet), at my core, I will always have that drive and need for more volunteerism and positive contribution to my people, the land, the sea, and to the world. Mahalo nui.

Click here to Learn more about Jon.

Kupu Leader Co-Authors Op-Ed on Benefits of Conservation to Hawaii

John Leong, Executive Director of Kupu, operators of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, recently co-authored an editiorial published by the Star Advertiser. It is republished below. 

Island Voices: Efforts to restore Hawaii's ecosystem serve many socially beneficial goals

By Josh Stanbro and John Leong

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 11, 2014

Our freshwater streams and ocean have long been at the center of Hawaii's culture and ecosystem.

Today, the impacts of climate change and changing land uses are threatening the balance of our environment, reducing our rainfall, eroding our beaches and harming our ocean resources.

To address these challenges, the Hawaii Community Foundation recently announced its 2014 grant recipients from the Community Restoration Partnership grant program.

The partnership brings together forward-thinking donors and dynamic nonprofit programs to find solutions for the critical challenge of our time: How do we make Hawaii as secure as possible in the face of diminishing fish stocks, invading species and increasing drought?

Since 2009, the partnership has worked collaboratively to protect Hawaii's nearshore ecosystems and encourage a robust, healthy fish population that will sustain future generations.

The partnership has come to understand that it can't fix Hawaii's reefs and stabilize its marine environment without following the problem upstream, addressing the source. In order to achieve a sustainable future, we must restore our coastal lands and waters from mauka to makai.

As one of nine partnership grantees for 2014, Kupu's Community U program is one bright example of Hawaii's people coming together to protect our island home. Community U puts underserved youth to work on the ground at conservation and cultural sites throughout the state, providing assistance and aid to grassroots restoration efforts.

On Oahu's windward side at Heeia, for example, invasive plants with shallow root systems have crowded out native growth along natural streams and traditional taro lo'i, allowing soil to be stripped from the land and eventually swept into the sea. Hawaii's fish populations and coastal waters have become threatened by tons of sediment gradually smothering the once-healthy coral reef systems. Here, Kupu is hard at work with Papahana Kuaola and Kako'o ʻŌiwi to remove invasive species, replant native vegetation and restore traditional taro lo'i that trap sediment and clean stormwater runoff.

Beyond this important work to repair terrestrial and marine resources, Kupu's Community U program provides opportunities for at-risk youth coming from difficult situations (in some cases, incarceration) to turn their lives around -- a second chance to obtain a diploma, gain transferable job skills, develop life skills and successfully build career pathways.

Hawaii's environment has been impaired because of human impact, certainly, but our greatest threat is apathy. Community U tackles these challenges head-on both by reversing damage to the land now, and restoring our youth as responsible change agents who care and are dedicated to stewarding themselves and our islands over the long term.

Our quality of life and the resilience of our aina and oceans in the 21st century are directly dependent on the people of Hawaii healing the land, and the land in turn helping to heal us.

Thanks to forward-thinking grant funders -- including the Hawaii Community Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Weissman Family Foundation, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation -- the partnership is able to directly support restoration projects for a cleaner, healthier Hawaii.

Work is underway to clear the waters at Heeia, but Hawaii needs community restoration projects in every single ahupua'a around our Islands.

Restored lands defend against the scourge of invasive species, capture precious raindrops and absorb them into our aquifers, and hold the line against sediment and erosion that reduce our marine and fish populations.

The Community Restoration Partnership firmly believes in supporting community groups that organize in their backyard to restore their own beloved places. We encourage other funders and donors to join the partnership and expand our impact.


Photos, Press, Highlights, and Video from the White House Champions of Change Conservation Event

Earlier this week as we announced, both Anthony "Chako" Ciocco of Southwest Conservation Corps and Jon Brito of Kupu were honored by the White House for "engaging the next generation of conservation leaders."

Numerous staff members from The Corps Network were honored to attend the event on Tuesday, and watch Chako and Jon represent us and the Corps Movement so well!

Secretary Jewell Makes Big Show of Support at Event, and Through Secretarial Order

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell served as the keynote speaker for the event, and highlighted each of the fourteen honorees' accomplishments. She quoted each of the honorees, and even ended her remarks with a quote from a forthcoming blog post written by Chako, to soon be published by the White House! (See video at time mark of 34 minutes and 35 seconds). She also announced that she would soon issue a Secretarial order for her youth initiative, which among other features formalizes the continuing implementation of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. A press release about the order was released earlier today. We believe this is a significant development and thank the Secretary for her support!

Other Representatives also Highlight Importance of Youth in Conservation and 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

The event also featured high-ranking officials from numerous other agencies and the White House, including White House Counselor John Podesta, Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Rhea Suh, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Arthur Blazer (pictured), and Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Michael Boots. Everyone was emphatic in their support of getting youth involved in conservation, and that the 14 "Champions of Change" were excellent role models for showcasing methods and strategies for involving youth in a variety of conservation efforts. The honorees were evenly split into two moderated panels, where they introduced themselves and answered questions from the moderators, from Twitter, and from the live audience. A video of the first hour of the event has already been posted on Youtube. In total it was a three hour event, so we are still waiting for the next video which should feature Chako and Jon's panel.

Additional Highlights Feature a Trip to Meet Wendy Spencer at the Corporation for National & Community Service, a mural tour at the Department of Interior that concluded with a stop in Secretary Jewell's Office

Both Jon and Chako were invited to the offices of AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) following the event. They were joined by Dr. Benjamin Blonder and Andy Hart, two other "Champions" who each had an AmeriCorps connection. CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer took a few moments to meet each of the honorees and take a photo with them. All of the champions also filmed quick videos with AmeriCorps staff.

Later in the afternoon, the Champions of Change were invited to take a tour of the Department of Interior, and see many of its fantastic and historic murals. Jon and Chako stopped to pose in front of one mural that depicted the Civilian Conservation Corps. The honorees gradually made their way to Secretary Jewell's office, where she again greeted the Champions and took more photos.

Party On Champions

But the fun didn't end there. The champions were invited by The Wilderness Society to their Ansel Adams Gallery to join a reception in honor of Bill Hodge, one of the Champions who was honored as a representative of the Wilderness Society's Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) program. An additional event was organized by our friends with the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.  

Praise from Members of Congress for Chako and Jon

“The White House Champions of Change award is a fitting recognition of Anthony’s environmental stewardship and leadership. He works tirelessly to improve outdoor access on the Navajo Nation,” Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said. “In true Colorado fashion, Anthony, and the Southwest Conservation Corps, are dedicated to furthering opportunities for all of us to get outside and appreciate the outdoors, while also teaching countless young people the importance of being good stewards of our natural resources.” 

“Today at the White House, a local Moloka`i leader is being honored for his work to preserve our precious island environment and Native Hawaiian cultural practices. Jon has restored many endangered native Hawai`i species and habitats through his work with AmeriCorps and Kupu’s Hawai`i Youth Conservation Corps. I’m so proud of Jon and all that he has done to improve his community and the environment around him, while setting a great example for our keiki to follow. Congratulations, Jon, for this well-deserved honor! Aloha!” — U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard



* We will continue adding to this list as new stories are posted and released.

Boiler Plate: 
Earlier this week as we announced, both Anthony "Chako" Ciocco of Southwest Conservation Corps and Jon Brito of Kupu were honored by the White House for "engaging the next generation of conservation leaders." Read about the highlights and see photos from Jon and Chako's big day!

White House Honors Two Conservation Corps Participants as Conservation Leaders

KUPU Featured on the Cover of MidWeek, Oahu's Most Read Weekly Publication

Changing Lives Preserving The Land

By Christina O'Connor

As 19-year-old Paul Jackson pulls invasive plants out of the community garden at Hooulu Aina nature preserve in the back of Kalihi Valley, he pauses periodically to explain the healing properties of things he encounters.

“This,” he says, holding up honohono and rubbing it on a small cut on his arm, “takes away an itch and it helps heal up cuts.”

His knowledge of what he sees in the garden is encyclopedic – this one can help take care of a cough and that one can get rid of cold symptoms – and he has plans to go back to school to study naturopathic medicine.

But not too long ago, Jackson was, as he puts it, directionless. He grew up in Halawa Housing, and after dropping out of high school in his freshman year, he had been working as a prep cook at one restaurant and as a busboy at another.

“The teachers kind of told me, ‘You’re no good, drop out,’” Jackson says.

He liked cooking, but he wanted to go back to school. His interest in natural medicine was sparked about seven weeks ago when he joined the group he’s working with at Hooulu Aina: Kupu’s CommunityU program.

Kupu, which means to “sprout” or “grow” in Hawaiian, is a nonprofit that offers experiential green job training, including natural resource management and conservation, for young adults ages 16-24, while also fostering leadership skills through hands-on activities.

Launched in 2007 by husband and wife John and Julianna Leong and Matthew Bauer of parent company Pono Pacific, Kupu now serves more than 300 youths per year, providing 230,000 service hours to its 80 partner organizations on five islands. CommunityU, which targets at-risk and underserved youths, is one of Kupu’s seven programs. Currently, Kupu is on the cusp of even bigger things – it recently launched a capital campaign to expand its headquarters at Kewalo Basin, improve its facilities and ultimately widen its reach.

But for all of the impacts that Kupu has had so far, the co-founders say it is not about them, or even about today. Kupu sees its real significance somewhere on the horizon – in a healthier environment and in a better future for the lives of the youths with whom they work.

“I think Kupu is about restoring life in Hawaii,” says John, the executive director. “And it is not just about the resources, although that is a big part of it. A lot of it also is about changing lives and teaching the next generation. God has blessed us with such an amazing place to live, and we not only want to care for it today, but also teach the youth how to be better stewards for tomorrow.”

While Kupu is now a large – and growing – organization, it all started in John’s parents’ garage.

As a business student at University of Pennsylvania, John had been an aspiring entrepreneur. But while away from the Islands, John, who grew up in Nuuanu and graduated from Punahou, really began to appreciate the fragility of the Hawaiian ecosystem. He also missed the strong community life that Hawaii seemed to nurture. So, although he had job offers in New York City and San Francisco, there didn’t seem to be a choice: He knew he had to move home and strive to enrich the local community.

In 2000, John created Pono Pacific to provide natural resource management for conservation agencies and landowners. Soon, he was joined by Julianna, whom he had met at Punahou, and Bauer, who learned of Pono Pacific and, on a whim, decided to email John. Like John, both Julianna and Bauer had attended Mainland colleges but returned to the Islands as soon as they could.

Living at home with their parents and working part-time jobs, the three spent their free time building Pono Pacific. Working with a shared computer and borrowing cars to get to and from work sites, the trio spent those early days in the field, clearing Maunawili Trail and removing invasive species from Kawainui Marsh.

“Our work was rewarding,” recalls Julianna, who was Kupu’s first executive director and now serves on the board. “There was a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. But I think there came a point where it felt like our work was just a drop in the bucket of meeting the conservation needs in Hawaii. And it felt like it was only going to be a drop in the bucket until there were more people who were engaged.”

Pono Pacific had been running a volunteer conservation program for students since 2001, and by 2006 they noticed that the interest was growing. In response, they launched Kupu to engage the community in preservation and to build up the next generation of conservation leaders.

“It has been neat because we not only have seen more people get into the conservation careers, but we have seen where we are impacting the more at-risk youths, too, and their lives turning around, going from really challenged backgrounds to now,” John says.

Kupu’s programs include RISE, which places college students and recent graduates in green-collar internships for projects that involve clean energy, sustainable development and more. RISE interns have conducted projects that include helping TheBus reduce diesel emissions. The E2U Program works with the state Department of Education to train young adults in energy conservation. Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC) is comprised of three sub-programs that include summer field work, a year-long conservation internship and an ongoing community service venture. CommunityU participants also take part in activities such as college visits and financial literacy training in addition to field work.

“I think some of the issues we work with are on the minds of a lot of youths, with global warming and other large global problems,” says Bauer, Kupu’s director of operations. “And actively being engaged with their hands to solve these problems is empowering.”

Kupu also provides a valuable service to its partner organizations.

“We have become a farm school for a lot of organizations, and I think they know that when they bring somebody in from Kupu, they are going to have a lasting impact,” John says.

According to the Kupu annual report for 2012, 60 percent of RISE interns, 28 percent of HYCC extended interns and 83 percent of CommunityU interns gained employment related to their Kupu experience.

Kupu interns also have been using their newfound skills to help their neighbors. Last year, a group of E2U interns conducted an energy audit of more than 180 homes, giving advice to homeowners on how they can be more efficient.

“Some people saved $200 a month,” John says. “And a lot of them were coming from a place where they really needed help with their energy costs.”

The Leongs and Bauer can rattle off a laundry list of memorable past interns, many of whom have gone on to establish careers in related industries. There’s Emma Yuen, a former HYCC participant who now works at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and was instrumental in securing funding for watershed preservation. There’s Jon Brito from Molokai, an HYCC intern who went on to become a team leader through Ameri-corps and now attends college on Maui.

“It just provides an opportunity for people to realize their own potential as individuals,” Julianna says.

Working alongside Jackson in the Hooulu Aina garden are about 10 other youths in CommunityU. Together, they pull out bunches of invasive plants, yanking long vines or chopping at shrubs, and then take turns delivering the plants to the compost pile.

Darla Simeona of Kokua Kalihi Valley, which runs the nature preserve, explains that the goal of today’s work is to increase food space in the garden. The invasive plants grow so quickly and abundantly that they’re now encroaching on the vegetables.

“We love working with Kupu,” Simeona says. “They get so much work done. Even with a small amount of people, they work well together, and they are not scared of hard work. They help us out a lot.”

CommunityU participant Jessica Pojas strategizes with another volunteer on how to best cut a thick vine of an invasive plant.

After moving back home following graduation from Oregon State University, Pojas knew that she wanted to work with environmental issues, but she wasn’t quite sure where to start. After weeks searching, she found Kupu.

“With this program, it is good because they have different ways of doing environmental work,” Pojas says, adding that it has introduced her to a range of companies.

As of this day, the group is two days away from their graduation. It’s their second day at Hooulu Aina, and they have spent the last few weeks working at other sites, including a couple of fish ponds and a loi.

Pojas hopes to continue her time with Kupu and already has applied to an extended internship for one program, and as team leader for another.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ashley Watkins clears a thicket of large weeds. Prior to joining CommunityU, Watkins “wasn’t doing much.” The California native had dropped out of school in eighth grade, and after getting fired from her job at a bookstore, she went to live with her mother and siblings in a small town. But when her job search didn’t pan out and she got tired of the crowded house, she came to Hawaii to live with her father.

When CommunityU ends, Watkins hopes to be accepted into a Kupu-run program to prepare for the GED – and ultimately aims to attend art school. Watkins, who loves to sketch, has found her work with native plants inspiring. But most of all she has enjoyed the sense of community that Kupu fosters – the kind of support that she says she hasn’t felt since she was a kid.

As graduation approaches, Jackson looks forward to starting at Leeward Community College in the spring. He’s already signed up for classes, and he also hopes to pursue an internship or job at one of the sites he’s worked with to learn more about natural medicine.

“I am excited, I really am,” he says. “That’s all I have been thinking about.”

For Kupu, stories like these are the crux of what they do.

“Just to see that is a huge victory for us,” John says. “If we can get them to go either to the other programs that Kupu offers or get employment afterward, it is to turn their lives around and realize that they have potential and that they can do something positive with their lives. That is a huge victory for us.”

Looking ahead, Kupu hopes that its work can benefit not only the kids and the environment, but the community at large as well.

“The big challenge is how do you become replicable, how do you build capacity in other people – within the organization but also outside in the community,” Julianna says. “Kupu is doing something great, but I think the more irrelevant we can become – because those values are already within the community – I think the better we can be.”

“We are just doing our part,” John adds. “I feel like we were passed a baton from others who have come before us, with the hopes that we would do something good with it. Right now we are just carrying that baton and trying to pass it on to the next generation.”

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.

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