Sunday, July 12, 2009

Corps values

Young adults learn conservation and more
by Carolyn Lucas
West Hawaii Today
Friday, July 10, 2009 10:39 AM HST

Tadashi Kamitaki, left, removes a hala pepe plant from its pot before planting it while Kauilani Loo looks on. Working alongside conservation leaders, Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps participants, ages 15-30, are exposed to various issues that threaten the environment, see areas that are rarely visited by the public, develop leadership skills and get the training they need to pursue careers in natural resource management. - Brad Ballesteros Special To West Hawaii Today

David Cadaoas decided to take a year off from the University of Hawaii at Hilo because he wasn't doing well and simply was uninterested. Afterwards, the 20-year-old Mountain View resident worked in the construction industry. Though Cadaoas made a lot of money, he wasn't passionate about the work he did. He wanted something more.

Eventually Cadaoas took his uncle's recommendation and applied for the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, a community-based service learning program that provides hands-on opportunities that protect and preserve Hawaii's environment.

Working alongside conservation leaders, program participants, ages 15-30, are exposed to various issues that threaten the environment, see areas that are rarely visited by the public, develop leadership skills and get the training they need to pursue careers in natural resource management.

They can also earn scholarships and three college credits. The program offers summer programs, and a year-round internship program. Projects include trail building and maintenance, native plant restoration, invasive species control, wildlife management, fence building, native bird monitoring, stream and coastal restoration, as well as work in wetlands.

Since January, Cadaoas has awakened daily at 3:30 a.m. to catch the Hele-On bus in Hilo and ride it to Waimea, where Wilds Brawner, site manager for Kaupulehu dryland forest, picks him up.

Upon arriving at "the epic forest" inconspicuously located off Mamalahoa Highway in North Kona, Cadaoas feels a sense of purpose: to give back to the land where he was raised.

"Over these past six months, I have gained direction, more responsibility and a stronger appreciation of our unique ecosystems. I am grateful for this year-long internship and my mentors. They have helped me grow in so many ways," he said. "I now want to go back tocollege and pursue a career in conservation, possibly (to) become a site manager or work in the nursery.

Site manager Wilds Brawner leads workers from Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps and Hoolauna Kona down a trail to a work site where they will plant indigenous plants in an attempt to restore the forest. - Brad Ballesteros Special To West Hawaii Today

"The greatest lesson I have learned is to look at the land as the resource that it is instead of just focusing on what can be harvested and to also think of yourself as part of the ecosystem, not the ruler of it."

Brawner is impressed by Cadaoas' dedication. He enjoys serving as a mentor to conservation corps participants, whom he called "the biggest blessing" and "a dynamic group eager and fully engaged to protect the aina for future generations."

Before, Brawner worked alone unless one counts the birds and the goats. With help from the youth corps he has been able to do much more than expected, especially when it comes to clearing massive amounts of invasive plants and keeping up with maintenance. The interaction between Brawner and the participants seems to have only amplified his enthusiasm and dedication for the forest.

"I cannot say enough about this extremely important program that connects our youth to the land in such an inspirational manner to care for the land and learn more. Whether they go into conservation or not, they have a foundation, (they) understand how important our ecosystems are to our future, and how much work it takes to be vigilant," said Yvonne Yarber Carter of the Kaupulehu dryland forest outreach program. "Before Wilds was part of our team, we relied on the outreach volunteers. HYCC was always the uplifting week of our year because they gave so much with zeal and thoughtfulness."

Assisted by Brawner and conservation corps participants, 17 students of Hoolauna Kona, a Kamehameha Schools program, on Thursday planted 105 native and endangered trees, shrubs and groundcover in the dryland forest. This effort aided in the restoration of the forest, boosting plant population and ensuring an ongoing seed source.

Blue flags marked where the outplantings -- transplanted seedlings from enthnobotanist Jill Wagner's Future Forests Nursery -- were to be planted. All the seeds used to grow the plants were collected in the 76-acre fenced area, owned by Kamehameha Schools, or nearby. Wagner said this was the first time akoko, or Chamaesyce eleanoriae, was reintroduced to the site.

Jacob Elarco's summer will be remembered as the one he spent learning to protect and restore the environment while further connecting to his culture and practicing kuleana.

His internship with the conservation corps has made him even prouder of his Hawaiian roots. He spoke about the importance of walking a more sustainable path, living in an environmentally conscious manner, nurturing the land, learning everyday and sharing knowledge with others, especially those younger than him.

For more information about Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, visit

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