This week, 52 students from East Hawai‘i started spring internships with Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park’s Youth Internship Program, part of the National Park Service’s Youth Partnership Program.
One goal of the program is to train and hire 32 students to work part-time at Hawai‘i Volcanoes this summer. Some will become park rangers, others will work as cultural and natural resources staff, or join the protection team. But the deeper purpose of the program is for the park to provide the opportunity for youth to acquire the values, competencies and skills needed to become successful, contributing adults.
The Youth Internship Program (YIP) gives island youth a chance to learn about the precious natural and cultural resources that the park protects, and the numerous recreational opportunities the park offers. The students share their newly gained insight and appreciation with hundreds of thousands of park visitors during the busy summer months.
One of the program’s success stories is Ka‘ū High senior Tyler Atwood, 18, who participated in the YIP program last year and now works part-time at Hawai‘i Volcanoes as a park ranger. He uses words like “transformed” and “newfound respect” when describing his experience.
“Before, I used to see trees and that’s it. Now each individual tree has a name and a story to go along with it. I now look at the forests, beaches, volcanoes and stars with complete appreciation,” Atwood said.
Three years ago, park staff listened carefully to community leaders who implored them to “do something for the teens.” Park Ranger Kūpono McDaniel took it to heart and the first year he and his staff mentored a dozen students from Ka‘ū High. This year, thanks to an increase in project funding, high school students in Puna and college students from the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College, have landed internships.
Although fun and meaningful, the program is no walk in the park, so to speak. There’s nine weeks of structured training, followed by individual assessment, and for those who make it, the thrill of donning their own flat hat and green-and-gray park service uniform. Other positive outcomes include personal growth, employability, civic involvement, and intellectual and physical health.
“We’ve had overwhelming support from all sectors of the community,” McDaniel said. “From the schools, to the students, parents, leaders, and the increasing number of organizations committed to helping us fund the program, the program has been very well received,” he said.
Supporting organizations include the National Park Service, the Omidyar ‘Ohana Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association, the Edmund C. Olson Trust, Friends of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and Ka‘ū, Pāhoa and Kea‘au high schools.
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