2014 Corpsmember of the Year, Jon Brito
AmeriCorps member – KUPU – Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps
The island of Molokai, Hawaii has fewer than 7,400 residents. Much of the population is of Hawaiian descent and many people still rely heavily on subsistence agriculture. The island has no traffic lights, no major stores and just one high school. Life on Molokai is slow-paced and pleasant, but the island offers few opportunities and is home to the highest unemployment rate in Hawaii (11.4% in October 2013, compared to a state unemployment rate of 4.4%). However, this statistic has never discouraged 2014 Corpsmember of the Year Jon Brito.
Jon grew up in the town of Kualapu’u, located roughly in the center of the island. After graduating from Molokai High School in 2008, Jon immersed himself in the world of environmental conservation as an AmeriCorps member with KUPU’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC). Upon completing his term with HYCC, Jon travelled to California to attend Humboldt State University. Inspired by his Corps, he enrolled in Humboldt’s Environmental Resources Engineering program. In 2012, Jon decided to take a year off from school so he could return home to gain work experience and earn money. Remembering how much he enjoyed his time with HYCC, Jon took a position with the program as an AmeriCorps team leader.
“…I enjoyed going away to college, [but] I really felt my calling here at home in Hawaii,” said Jon. “I got some amazing work experience and network connections, but I decided to transfer home to be in a program geared towards working in and benefitting Hawaii.”
Spending the summer mentoring Molokai youth as an AmeriCorps member was an empowering experience for Jon. He excelled as a team leader and served as a positive role model for HYCC Corpsmembers in whose place he had stood just four years earlier.
Jon had found his place in the Corps. At the end of the summer, he decided to continue his service by accepting a year-long AmeriCorps position with HYCC. He spent the 2012-2013 term as an intern at Ka Honua Momona (KHM), a Molokai-based nonprofit that seeks to revitalize natural and cultural resources and create connections between the Hawaiian people, their heritage and the environment. All the while, Jon continued to spread the word about HYCC and encouraged Molokai youth to join the Corps.
During Jon’s year-long internship with KHM, KUPU was unable to find a suitable team leader for the summer 2013 HYCC Molokai program. Knowing the fate of the program was at stake, Jon volunteered to put his internship on hold and subsequently served as the HYCC team leader for the second year in a row. At the end of the summer, he picked up where he had left at Ka Honua Momona and successfully completed his internship.
Jon currently lives on the island of Maui, where he attends the University of Hawaii, Maui College. He is enrolled in the school’s Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology program and plans to one day use his education to help Hawaii reach energy independence. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010 Hawaii imported some 94% of its energy and had the highest electricity prices in the United States.
“I strongly feel that the future of Hawaii depends on locally produced energy and goods,” said Jon. “From reducing our carbon footprint, to [ensuring] energy and food security; this is our future and what we will leave to the next generation.”
In addition to his school responsibilities, Jon serves as an energy efficiency and agriculture intern with KUPU’s vocational training program, RISE. In this position, Jon works with Maui’s business and agriculture sectors to improve the sustainability of their operations.
As his supervisors say, “Jon has a heart of gold and is a truly selfless person with all the right intentions.” As the only KUPU Corpsmember to have served in the RISE program as well as three HYCC programs, it goes without saying that Jon is dedicated to Corps and environmental sustainability.
“I believe with an absolution that only good comes out of what Corps do,” said Jon. “It is my firm belief that Corps empower people to do good in this world.”