When Heidi Fleming arrived on a bike at Bynum Bridge on Saturday, people were happy to see her.
She was delivering sustenance.
And when people are cleaning, clearing, painting and picking up trash, nothing boosts energy and spirits like food and drink.
“We just want to support the community,” Fleming said when asked why she is part of “Make a Difference Day,” hosted in Wailua by The Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park.
Her husband and son were part of the annual gathering that brought out a record of about 250 volunteers on a sunny morning to tackle an array of projects around the popular county park.
Heidi Fleming’s role involved biking from the base of operations at the main pavilion to anywhere in the park where supplies, tools or snacks were needed.
The Flemings live nearby, and have been visiting Lydgate Park for nearly 20 years.
“It’s important to our whole family,” she said. “We just love it.”
Event coordinator Tommy Noyes kept track of the day’s activities as he, too, bicycled around the park and kept in contact with project leaders via his cellphone.
He displayed a map, flow chart, checklist and schedules that indicated just how much detail went into this day that saw volunteers, from keiki to kupuna, working from 7:30 a.m. to noon, and then being rewarded with lunch and accolades.
Make a Difference Day is far from simple to put together. Noyes rose at 3:40 Saturday morning and met with leaders by 6. Nothing was left to chance. Everyone was assigned roles and responsibilities. First aid services headed up by Dr. Randy Blake were ready to respond if needed. A public information officer documented the day, too. “All of these operations are supported by our logistical core,” Noyes said.
Volunteers, some soaked in sweat, cleared marine debris from beaches, picked up trash on grass, trimmed brush and repaired decking at Kamalani Playground, which marked its 25th anniversary.
“What I find really works well is bringing a lot of people on to the leadership team and giving them the authority to bring their friends in, and that really seems to successfully get the word out into the community,” he said.
Two volunteers, Vicky Medeiros and Kim Gebauer, worked side by side at Bynum Bridge (formerly Kamalani Kai Bridge, near Wailua Golf Course and the park’s camping area), given the task of painting the outside of bridge railings. That required some stretching and reaching with paint brushes attached to long poles, not the easiest task. “We’re going to feel the muscle pain tomorrow,” Medeiros said, laughing. Her husband, Frank, was working at Kamalani Playground, which he helped build 25 years ago. “We haven’t been down to a Make a Difference Day since then,” she said. “But for 25 years it was a celebration. We’re here because of that.”
Gebauer, who is from Alaska, has visited Kauai the past 10 years. Her family times some of their trips to join Make a Difference Day at Lydgate Park. “We just fell in love with Kauai,” she said.
Another volunteer, who declined to give her name, was scouring the grass for cigarette butts, then placing them in a orange bucket she carried. This chore, she explained, was personal. “When I think of the ones I’ve thrown out car windows, my shame is huge,” the ex-smoker said. “I’m trying to pay it back.”
Noyes, who has already reserved Lydgate’s main pavilion for Make a Difference Day 2020, deflected credit for the day’s success. “It’s a community effort. Nobody gets paid a dime to do any of this. But everybody comes away at the end of the session feeling good about what they’ve done,” he said.
Still, there are a few reasons he likes to lead this project. One is that it’s a chance to help people “feel like this is their park. They’re invested in it. They have a voice.” Another is the friendships that come from it.
“It’s tremendously rewarding,” Noyes said. “Bottom line, we’re contributing to the happiness of our community.”