Under the Sun
Environmental group loses a piece of its heart
It's not easy being green, but it can be fun and "immensely rewarding," so much so that Jeff Mikulina has done it for nearly 10 years.
As the front man for Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, Mikulina has carried the title of executive director, which sounds like a position loaded with perks and privileges, and from his point of view, it is. But in an organization that relies heavily on volunteers, Mikulina has been a virtual one-man operation.
Mikulina will soon be moving on and the club is looking for a new leader. If the job description on its Web site is any indication of the work involved, the next director had better gear up.
The description says the chapter director "serves as chief executive, strategist, lobbyist and spokesperson." He or she "develops and implements statewide programs, policies and conservation initiatives." The director is also expected to raise funds, set and meet financial goals, manage legislative programs and volunteer recruitment, develop working relationships with other groups and officials, plan for the short and long term - and deal with the pesky media types.
Along with everything else, you "get to edit the newsletter," he quips.
When he came to Hawaii to take the job, Mikulina was 24. Already green in terms of environmental spirit, he was green in terms of experience and though he had lived in Hawaii for nine months during an internship, he was green in knowledge about the islands.
Clutching a "bunch of clips" from the Star-Bulletin, the only online newspaper in Hawaii at the time, he flew to Honolulu the day after classes ended at an Illinois university where he was in graduate school.
"I was reading, Cayetano. OK, that's the governor, Cayetano, Cayetano, on the plane," he recalls, shaking his head at the mad rush.
The outgoing director, David Frankel, who was moving to the Big Island, spent about two hours in the chapter's office with him. "He said there's the files, the phone; return calls to the media first, and call everybody back after that." Then he drove his predecessor to the airport.
Despite the abbreviated training period, Frankel has been a great counselor, Mikulina says, spending countless hours advising him.
Steadying his legs took some time, but getting a handle on the tangled cultural and political facets of the islands also helped Mikulina develop a way to look at issues through different lenses.
If anything, that ability has been the foundation from which he has been able to navigate successfully, by presenting issues and ideas in ways others can understand and accept.
His tenure has not been without frustration. He recalls presenting his case about a bill to a legislator who, television remote in hand, watched a ball game throughout the meeting and who had nothing to say afterward than "help yourself to candy on your way out."
Sometime this week, he will make public what's next for him. Rumors about a job with the city, about leaving Hawaii (not true, he says) indicate the prominence Mikulina has gained through the decade.
Yet he insists the Sierra Club's success in establishing the Legacy Lands Fund for preservation of wild and special areas, curbside, bottle and can recycling, greenhouse gases caps and solar water-heating for new homes, among other initiatives, are the work of the chapter's volunteers. They are the heart and soul of the chapter, he says. They'd say the same about him.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org