BLOG: An internship reflection by Dionael Distajo (Summer Intern 2022)
First and foremost, I would like to give a big shout out to Hau‘oli Mau Loa Foundation for providing me the opportunity to be a summer intern for the year 2022. Mahalo nui loa to Brant, Janis, Anela, Olivia, and Keahi for all their ‘ike and alakaʻina. Mahalo for also flexing around my work schedule, which made it possible to not only participate in this internship, but enjoy it to the fullest.
As a full-time working student, it has been quite a journey to find internships that are not only paid, but accommodating to my job. Fortunately, this opportunity landed on my doorstep or email inbox. The Office of Public Health (my major Department at U.H. Mānoa) sent out a flyer mentioning an internship opportunity for Hau‘oli Mau Loa Foundation. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at this.
Upon checking out the flyer and their website, I realized that not only did their mission resonate with me, but it also had similar connections with my current job. I currently work as a program leader for a nonprofit called “After School All Stars Hawai‘i,” that provides free after-school programs for students that consists of academic support and enrichment activities in underserved communities. My nonprofit experience ultimately led me to want to experience things from a funder's perspective. My experience working for a private grant-making foundation broadened my views on the nonprofit sector in general, and shed light on the relationships between funders and the nonprofit organizations they support.
Hau‘oli Mau Loa Foundation is a private grant-making foundation that aims to utilize elements of trust-based philanthropy. Philanthropy can be defined as “the practice of organized and systemic giving to improve the quality of human life.” Trust-based philanthropy is a type of model that seeks to create a relationship between funder and grantee that values relationship building and power-sharing over total control.
The foundation does a fantastic job in this area with its partners. It has also been inspiring to see how well staff communicate with one another and the positive relationships they maintain. They are always seeking to address the disparities in our communities and find ways to help.
Throughout this internship, I had the chance to work on a number of different projects. One of those projects was to do a thorough review of the foundation’s website and provide recommendations that may improve it. I got the chance to learn basic web design and maintenance skills. This also allowed me to learn so much more about web accessibility. In modern day, the use of technology is nearly inevitable for most of us. Especially since the pandemic, we have taken it to the top. Online technology plays a major role in the majority of our lives. However, not all users can access content equally. Some may have physical or neurological limitations that inhibit the traditional way to access content. Web accessibility exists to bridge that gap so that all users can access content.
Another project I worked on was the analysis of an Affordable Housing Funding Strategy Report by Dr. Philip Garboden and a team from the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa. I learned so much about the various components that affect housing affordability in Hawai‘i. The study team provided general recommendations to the foundation on how they might distribute funding in priority areas. It was fascinating to see how funders contribute to this area. Another portion of the project was to organize data from the Hawai‘i Housing Finance & Development Corporation’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Awards from the past five years in a spreadsheet. This also broadened my knowledge on the developer side of building affordable housing. Brant did a fantastic job answering my questions about the report during a Q&A session. My knowledge surrounding real estate went from 0 to 100 that day.
In addition, I got to attend some fun events! One of those was the Hawai‘i Conservation Conference. This conference is held yearly and hosts a diverse group of people and organizations from different backgrounds throughout Hawai‘i and the Pacific. During this conference, I got to experience a networking session that allowed me to connect with professionals from various backgrounds in conservation. I also had a fantastic time viewing the various poster presentations of various students and professors. Like did you know, feral honey bees have been a new threat to indigenous sea birds of Hawai’i?
Ultimately, it was very empowering to hear about their passions and the difference they are actively making in the environment.
Although this internship was completely online, the staff did a fantastic job at creating an engaging environment. They were all so warm and welcoming that I never felt left out or uncomfortable. During this time, I was able to cultivate new areas of knowledge and skills. As a student majoring in public health, it was a refreshing to gain exposure to a sector with broad goals to improve the overall well-being of both the people and the environment. The memories created throughout this internship will be forever treasured. As an individual, I have become even more motivated to give back to the community for the better. Again, mahalo to the Foundation for making my first internship an amazing experience.
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