Youth pitch inTwo 23-year-old Hawaii-born dynamos who want to save the Earth figure they can't do it alone, so they'll have to recruit as many fellow workers as possible.
to help at
The group will be helping
to improve the land on
Kauai this summer
By Diana Leone
Matt Ramsey and John Leong are well on their way as coordinators of the Youth Conservation Corps, which kicked off on Oahu last week with sessions that ran the gamut from training in first-aid and Hawaiian cultural practices to the basics of conservation work and bonding-by-ropes-course.
Starting tomorrow, the program will be based on Kauai for five weeks with participants working full-time on four different conservation projects: Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Waipa Bog (working with University of Hawaii Sea Grant program), Kilauea Point (hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and Kokee State Park.
Then participants will finish their summer experience with a week on Kahoolawe. The $75,000 funding for the entire program covers stipends for participants, salary for the coordinators, interisland airfare and equipment.
Each site will benefit from services such as weeding of non-native plants, planting native plants, doing research on birds, insects and bats, installing irrigation, and other such in-the-field work. Some groups get to stay in cabins or go home at night, but the hardy Waipa Bog group will camp out four days a week.
"I think we're really going to help make a difference," said Emilie Schwarz of Michigan.
This year's workers range from juniors and seniors in high school to freshmen and sophomores in college. It's about half-and-half male and female and with the exception of two participants from the mainland and one from Oahu, it's a group of Kauai residents.
Not everyone is sure they want a career in the conservation and ecological sciences field. But even those who are aiming for medical school or engineering concede that if the summer goes well, they could change their minds.
"I want to learn about the land and the environment," said Caleb Davis, who homeschools in Hanapepe.
Tiana Lum-Tucker of Lihue, a senior at Kauai High School, said her summer at Kilauea Point will help her "figure out if I want to do environmental science."
When he was a Youth Conservation Corps worker in 1996, Leong said it "not only opened my eyes to conservation, but also helped me as an individual. It's about leadership and stewardship, serving others and the environment."
This summer Leong said his charges will help make the environment on Kauai visibly better, but more important, they may begin a lifetime of caring about the planet, whether they go into the field or not. "Hopefully, it'll be life-changing. Past members may not have gone into conservation but they become more conservation-minded."
Maile Sakamoto, information and education coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources Forestry and Wildlife division, said Leong and Ramsey know what they are doing and have maturity beyond their years.
"They're like the ideal students of this program: very interested in the environment, really involved in a lot of things and very good communicators," Sakamoto said. "We feel like we're very lucky that they took to this program, then went to college and sought degrees in related fields and now want to come back and introduce more students to this kind of work."
Sakamoto said the program had a heyday in the 1970s, lost funding in the 1980s but has been coming back strong since 1995. And this year Ramsey and Leong have come full circle from being high school-aged participants in the summer program (Youth Conservation Corps summers of '95 and '96 respectively) to running it.
Leong is a graduate of Punahou School with a University of Pennsylvania bachelor's degree in science and economics, while Ramsey graduated from Hawaii Baptist Academy and Cornell University.
At day two of Youth Conservation Corps -- spent at a ropes course on Kualoa Ranch land -- Ramsey and Leong already had gained the trust and respect of the 18 participants in the program.
"This is a great bunch of kids -- they make our job easy," Leong said.