Impact Story: Kupu Hawaii
Kupu, a multi-program Corps with over 500 participants per year, has had great success in Hawaii. Founded in 2007, Kupu embodies its name, which in Olelo Hawai’i means “to grow”. Kupu currently has over 100 partner sites, and has programs ranging from its Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps, to its individual programs like Kupu ‘Āina Corps. The Corps mission is to “Preserve land while empowering youth.”
Kupu runs several programs, some are team based, like Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps, while others focus on individual placement, like Kupu ‘Āina Corps. Kawika Riley, the Senior Director of External Affairs at Kupu, says; “the dual focus of building potential of youth and caring for the environment are the common thread in all of them.” The variety of programs have empowered over 5000 young people to find their place in conservation and service. Here are a few of them:
Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps is a summer program for teens and young adults interested in conservation work. Corpsmembers serve outdoors with various environmental organizations and get to explore their passion for conservation while earning a stipend and potential AmeriCorps education awards. Members serve in the field with a team of other Corpsmembers completing work at their assigned site.
Kupu Culinary Program is a program focused on empowering young adults to learn about sustainable food sources and culinary practices in a real-world, hands-on service environment. Participants must be 16 years or older and gain job skills they can bring into their future career path.
Kupu ‘Āina Corps is an initiative of the state of Hawai’i for a Green Job Youth Corps and, according to Riley, one of the biggest Kupu programs. Positions in this program are partnered across Kupu’s expansive network in areas from conservation to agriculture to clean energy. Corpsmembers are given a chance to serve and dive into the conservation field before they start on their career paths.
Kupu’s programs partner with a variety of organizations. They work with the state of Hawaii, the federal government, Volcanos National Park, and even smaller organizations within the community. Making these connections and doing projects within the community will hopefully be reflected on a larger scale. “Ultimately it’s what we need to do worldwide” says Riley.
Kupu regularly has around 500 Corpsmembers, though it varies from year to year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kupu ‘Āina Corps helped provide employment for many individuals facing hardship because of the pandemic’s effect on Hawaii’s largely tourism-based economy. Since Kupu began, they have had over 5000 young people serve as Corpsmembers who have done astonishing work.
Riley shares, “It’s a pretty neat thing, based on our reports going back all those years we can track over 1.5 million native species that have been planted by our members and over 151 thousand acres of invasive species that have been removed.”
He also notes that the Corps estimates that they have had 153 million dollars in positive socio-economic impact. Riley believes that “Hawaii is economically dependent on tourism, and while that will never go away, [Hawaii] should not be as dependent as [they] are.”
Most Corpsmembers seek a position at Kupu to foster a pre-existing love for the environment and to explore related career pathways. Riley notes that 80% of participants report that they are working in an environmental related field after completing the program.
As the world begins to come to terms with the environmental crisis of climate change, Corps like Kupu are already doing the work and preparing the next generation to be stewards of the environment.