Sustainability is about more than protecting the environment. Demonstrating an acute awareness of and respect for our natural surroundings is also a way to celebrate our cultural heritage and promote the health of our community for future generations. And the health of a community entails the strength of all kinds of programs and entities—from educational and cultural to human services and health care. Sustainability means we have to work together, learn from one another and recognize that making due with less also means being willing to do more for one another. Plenty of local organizations need help. Here are just a few volunteer programs on Oahu to get you started.
Field crews from the Oahu Invasive Species Committee spend their days surveying the island for weeds and invasive species that may upset our delicate ecosystem. The group leads volunteer work trips on the second Saturday of each month. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen and a snack and prepare to learn about some of the perceived threats to Oahu while helping to protect against them.
Since it was founded nearly three decades ago, Hawaii Nature Center has taught more than 800,000 children and adults about the wonderful world outside and all around us. Its mission: to foster a love of the environment through education and hands-on learning. After all, there’s nothing like learning by doing. The Center orchestrates bird watches, eco-odysseys, earth care projects, guided hikes, nature adventures and much more. Volunteers do everything from coordinating mailings to assistant teaching.
Also, be sure to check out volunteer opportunities with some of the environmental organizations like Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii, Kanu Hawaii, Oahu Na Ala Hele and the Surfrider Foundation, listed in our Green Weekend guide (page 14).
The Waikiki Aquarium provides a comprehensive free training program in which participants get everything from a refresher course on basic biology to a behind-the-scenes look at the tanks that aren’t on view to the public. You’ll learn all kinds of fun facts about the institution’s history, octopus behaviors, the significance of marine life in ancient Hawaiian culture and much more. Volunteers are asked to donate about two hours a week to helping out—a gig that requires hanging out in the sun, chatting with visitors and discussing hermit crabs. Oh, and you’ll get all kinds of perks like free admission to the aquarium and—best of all—a chance to meet your island neighbors.
Bishop Museum relies on both long-term volunteers and those with limited availability who are interested in helping out with special events. Another round of recent layoffs and program cutbacks means the museum could use volunteers now more than ever. For those who want to dedicate as much as four hours a week, the museum is in the midst of a search for a large group of volunteers who can serve as guides—for all age groups—to the new Hawaiian Hall exhibit, expected to open by the end of the summer.
The Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s program ‘AINA IS is geared at integrating nutrition and agriculture curriculum into standard education programs with an eye on addressing childhood obesity, encouraging environmental stewardship and creating an institutional market for Hawaii’s farmers and their produce. The program includes garden-based learning, implementation of healthier school lunches and cafeteria recycling programs, teaching agricultural literacy and much more. Volunteer opportunities include positions as docents, lesson assistants, garden volunteers and farm liaisons.
Diamond Head Theatre seeks volunteers who can help paint, build, sand and create set pieces for theatrical productions. Theatre set-directors provide all the training you’ll need. It’s a great way to support local arts while learning about what it takes to put together any one of DHT’s six yearly productions.
If you haven’t recently stopped to admire ‘Iolani Palace, it’s worth the trip downtown for another look. It can be easy to forget how breathtaking the only royal residence in the United States actually is, especially in the shadow of the monstrosity that is our State Capitol. But ‘Iolani Palace, built more than 125 years ago, is gorgeous and rich with history. It might still be in poor condition without the help of a dedicated group of individuals who took on the task of restoring it in the 1970s. Today, the ongoing restoration and preservation wouldn’t be possible without volunteers, who can work as greeters, docents, guardians, gift-shop assistants and more. The palace asks for a commitment of six hours per month.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the 184-foot-long USS Arizona sank in an attack by Japanese bombers, and became the final resting place for 1,177 crewmen killed that day. The period of blackouts, disregard for civil liberties, fear and uncertainty that followed is not missed—though it is essential that we remember it. The attack on Pearl Harbor not only shaped American history but that day of infamy became a turning point in the social direction of the modern world. History buff or not, volunteering your time to help educate the visitors about the National Park site’s importance is a worthy and valuable cause. You may know the basics about Pearl Harbor, but there are stories within stories within stories to be told by and about all of those who have a connection to the memorial. Here’s a fun fact from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Web site to get you started: Although the USS Arizona was stricken from the official register of U.S. naval vessels after the attack, the ship was symbolically “re-commissioned” when a flagpole was erected on the USS Arizona on March 7, 1950.
So maybe it seems like Diamond Head should fall under an environmental category. After all, it is the Department of Parks and Recreation that’s responsible for oversight of the ancient volcano and public access to its trails. Yet Diamond Head is one of Hawaii’s best-recognized landmarks. To most of us, its familiar brown jut—whether seen from the commute home on H-1 or looking up from the Tong’s break—just looks like home. And that’s why it’s so important to take care of it. Groups from Kapiolani Community College, the U.S. Army and the nonprofit Diamond Head State Monument Foundation all do regular volunteer work at the Park. Depending on the size, interest and physical capabilities of those interested in volunteering as a group, projects could include everything from pulling overgrown lion’s ear, re-graveling crumbling backtrails and some main trail maintenance if the park is closed.
With economic strife inevitably comes difficulty handling even the most basic day-to-day essentials, like paying for groceries. So it makes sense that Hawaii Foodbank has struggled immensely with meeting even its emergency quota over the past year. The Foodbank serves more than 130,000 people each year, many of them children. With the group’s 20th Annual Food Drive Day scheduled for this Sat., April 18, it’s the perfect time to get involved. Hawaii Foodbank seeks volunteers at Koko Marina Center, Pearl City Shopping Center, Pearl Highlands Center, Town Center of Mililani, Waiokeola Congregational Church and Windward City Shopping Center.
It’s troubling that the Domestic Violence Action Center has a button in the top right-hand corner of its Web site that says, “click to leave this site quickly” (clicking it immediately redirects Web surfers to Google). To imagine someone who might be in danger just by searching for help from abuse is upsetting, but it’s also a reality. The center provides training for its helpline operators, and asks for a four-hour-per-week commitment.
Nearly 20 percent of Hawaii residents aren’t functionally literate. It’s a staggering figure and one that speaks to the importance of programs like Hawaii Literacy which offer both adult and family reading programs, many of which are run by volunteers. The program also seeks book donations.
For 90 years, Aloha United Way has served the people of Hawaii who have most needed help. The non-profit provides education, health and other services, particularly for those who are struggling financially or homeless. To find out more, visit [auw.org], or call 536-1951. The United Way also manages a database of volunteer opportunities across the island.