LIHUE — Daezsa Tomas, a senior at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a member of the Hawaii women’s golf team, said this was the last chance to experience Kupu.
Kupu in Hawaiian means “to sprout, grow, germinate, or increase,” and Sunday, Tomas and eight other participants celebrated the completion of their summer program through the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps.
“I always wanted to do this,” said Tomas, an alumnus of Kauai High School. “But in high school, I was too involved in golf. Now, I’m a senior at the University of Hawaii and this is my last chance to do this.”
Matthew Ching, Kauai coordinator, said Kauai celebrated nine graduates who worked under two team leaders: Patrick Bruno and Tita Kuhaulua, a team leader for six years. Graduates included Rylee Ellimar, Ayahna Mack, Keira Oberg, Wai Wichimai, Kalani Asano, Kira Rowan, and Tomas.
Each of the graduates received a certificate as well as an educational award partially funded by Americorps.
“This was a good summer,” Ching said. “In return for their service over 300 hours, each student receives a $500 award, and a $1,200 education award. It’s kind of like a scholarship. Team leaders receive a larger living allowance as well as the educational awards.”
The graduates between the ages of 17 to 22 years old will continue on to college to pursue degrees while some may remain within other Kupu programs, or find employment.
“Whaever life path they select, these program participants have gained a great amount of insight to create a successful future for not only themselves, but for the whole state of Hawaii as well,” Ching said. “I was a Kupu worker for three years before becoming a coordinator. It’s a bonding experience and people get very close, forming relationships that go beyond the seven weeks they spend together.”
Ching said when the groups form, they spend a week training on Oahu before returning to Kauai, where they spend six weeks working on conservation projects at conservation sites.
The students remove invasive plant species, plant native plants, restore trails and more.
“I loved it all,” Tomas said. “I never got to explore Kauai like this. I got to meet people, make connections, and see people grow and think about their future.”
The Kupu program celebrates 86 participants from throughout the state.
“These young men and women will be the next generation that will lead Hawaii to a more sustainable future,” Ching said.