Hawaiʻi National Park, HI - Someone once said that volunteers aren't paid because they are priceless, and the phrase rings true at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, where a total of 1,058 volunteers have logged a cumulative 88,499 hours of priceless service this year. That's the equivalent of 43 full-time equivalent employees.
The park's volunteer program encompasses nearly every task imaginable. Volunteers plant endemic seedlings and remove invasive species. They identify and protect sea turtle nesting sites and steer newly hatched turtles to the ocean. Others enlighten visitors by providing guided treks, sharing information at the Kīlauea Visitor Center, or leading cultural workshops. Some help by archiving resources in the park library, or go out in the field to log and protect archeological sites. Several work in the backcountry maintaining trails, while others help out by filing and tallying volunteer program hours.
These volunteers are deeply appreciated and relied upon by visitors and staff all year long, but were officially celebrated at a luncheon today in the park. Alana McKinney, Wilhelmina "Minky" Markiewicz, Charlie Ricketts and Dave Boyle received special plaques for giving 10,000 hours of service, and Ed Shiinoki and Charlene and Amos Meyers were honored for completing 5,000 hours of unpaid service.
"My job description is to just help," says Ed Shiinoki, who spends much of his time leading guided hikes, assisting curious visitors at the visitor center, and building trails, and trail signs. Shiinoki says sharing the dynamic environment of active volcanoes, science and the Hawaiian culture with visitors in a moving, memorable way provides him with a strong sense of joy, and satisfaction.
Shiinoki lives in Volcano and Honolulu, and began volunteering in 2007. He feels a deep connection to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. "This is my puʻuwai, my heart. Now I belong to the park," he said.
But volunteers aren't required to commit as much time as Shiinoki and his colleagues, who are all retired. Volunteers can contribute as little as four hours a week and make a huge difference.
Some, like Nell Nunn, complete three-month assignments then move on to volunteer at other national parks across the country.
"I love to travel and to volunteer," Nunn said. "It gives me the opportunity to get to know parts of the U.S. And I increase my own learning every time I interact with a visitor."
Today marks Nunn's last day with Hawaiʻi Volcanoes, then she's off to El Morro National Monument in New Mexico.
"The park's history was written by volunteers from the very beginning," said Superintendent Cindy Orlando. "People who love this place have worked hard for nearly 100 years to protect it and educate others about it. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, like other national parks, has been sustained significantly by the donated time of volunteers," she said.
The park provides dormitory-style housing for a few volunteers from the mainland and other countries, and gives them a small meal allowance. Married couples who volunteer together can share a room in park housing. All volunteers receive training, supervision, and assistance by park employees.
Partner organizations also help the park immeasurably. The Hawaiʻi Natural History Association provides funding for volunteer housing, transportation and utilities, as well as funds programs for interpretative walks and talks, backcountry patrols, and endangered species projects aimed at nēnē, hawksbill sea turtle (honu ʻea) and Hawaiian petrel (ʻuaʻu) recovery.
The Friends of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and its "Connect People with the Park" efforts focus on education, volunteerism and philanthropy. The Friends group holds monthly Volunteer Forest Restoration Projects, plus raises funds for two critically endangered species via the Nēnē Recovery Project and the Hawaiʻi Island Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project.
Citizens interested in volunteering at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park may visit www.volunteer.gov/gov, or contact Laura Williams at (808) 985-6304 or e-mail us.