HAWAI‘I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK CENTENNIAL April 17, 2016 • 21 Not your typical internship: Youth Rangers Kupono McDaniel, volunteer coordinator at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, knows what it means to be given an opportunity. “I think every young person should know that they can follow their passion and have a meaningful career,” he said in a recent interview. “I didn’t realize that until I was 30.” When he was still a student, McDaniel worked for a time at the park. These days, he’s helping the next generation find their way, through the Youth Rangers program. Now 7 years old, the program is ostensibly a summer internship for students from Puna and Ka‘u, the districts that border the park (this year, it expanded to include the Kona district and its national parks as well). This is not your typical internship. The students go through eight weeks of paid training before starting work, which could be in just about any division of the park. In many cases, it’s their first job. “They’re exposed to so many professions just working in the park,” said Elizabeth Fien, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park group, which provides more than half of the Youth Rangers funding. “Learning the nonprofit ropes, (working in) protection, natural resources, cultural resources, the auto shop, electrical, landscaping.” “We are almost a city unto ourselves,” McDaniel said. “There’s just so many different jobs, and it opens their eyes to, ‘Wow, I could actually make it at home, I don’t necessarily have to go (away).’” It’s not just about staying closer to home, though. It’s about having options. “We’ve had so many that are going to college or have graduated,” Fien said. Youth Rangers began with a group of 12 students from Ka‘u. Hiring teenagers wasn’t included in the park’s budget, but a federal grant helped cover the cost of the program its first year. “We recognized at the same time that the training itself is really valuable,” McDaniel said. “So we teach about communication skills, self-awareness, and leadership and financial awareness.” As soon as the first youth entered, it was clear the idea was a good one. “I saw them literally changing right before my eyes, growing up over the summer,” McDaniel said. It was little things, like starting to look adults in the eye. And it was bigger things, like coming up with a solution to some problems that had arisen as the program was finding its footing. “We asked (them) — there’s been a number of behavior problems, what can we do to stop that?” McDaniel recalled. “And the kids themselves came up with the idea of creating a contract that they sign. It’s just so straightforward and obvious. Somehow just putting your name on that piece of paper changed everything the very next year.” Youth Rangers have embarked on invasive species removal projects and seed replanting. They’ve helped human resources with fingerprinting and rangers with first aid. They’ve worked in the Friends office and the front office. This year, there are 63 students in the training. The constant challenge of funding means not all will be hired for the summer portion, which is “psychologically painful” for McDaniel. “I love all the kids,” he said. “I think one of the things that’s surprising the people is that it’s beneficial to our staff as well. That often surprises even the staff ... you see their growth, and I think everyone gets to share in the rewards.” “My hope is that we expand to Maui and Oahu and the whole state,” Fien said. “What’s a better classroom than a national park?” Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@ hawaiitribune-herald.com. In the fall of 2015, President Barack Obama announced a new initiative aimed at connecting a new generation with the country’s vast national park system. The program was straightforward and ambitious: Every fourth-grader in the country — and the fourth-graders’ families — would receive free admission to the parks and public lands. Since the inception of Every Kid in a Park, Noah Gomes, a ranger in the park’s Environmental and Education Center, has helped coordinate school visits for fourth-grade classrooms on Hawaii Island. “The teachers will go over it (the program) with the kids, and then we come in and do the big finish with them,” Gomes said. Park rangers come to the classroom to present the students with a their passes. Kids sign up with the program online to receive a paper pass good for park entry, but having an official ranger presentation ups the excitement factor. “It’s really nice for the kids to be able to have that, and it’s nice for the park rangers to be able to come in,” Gomes said. “It’s amazing how many kids have not been to this park. You live in a place and you tend to kind of put things off.” The Every Kid in a Park program is a way for kids to become more invested in the island’s resources. “It’s their land,” Gomes said. “It’s really great to be able to share these things with the kids and to be able to connect them more with their homeland.” The program’s emphasis on families was also a selling point for Gomes — and for the kids he talks to. “You ask the kids, ‘Why would you want to go into a national park?’” he said. “The thing that I was looking for was ‘Spend time with families’ and they said that straight off the bat. “It’s amazing how the kids are already on board with what the purpose of this program is.” By IVY ASHE Hawaii Tribune-Herald National program aims to put ‘Every Kid in a Park’ By IVY ASHE Hawaii Tribune-Herald HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Jaden Bond, 17, shares his Personal Identity Project with other students during a training session for the HVNP Youth Rangers at Keaau High.
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