A few months ago I was powering through my first year of graduate school at the UH Mānoa Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work. This consisted of: coffee, exams, final projects, a part-time job, practicum requirements, extracurricular meetings, preparations for the next school year, and more coffee. As the semester came to a close, I knew that I needed to be looking for a summer job – but I felt like I had absolutely no time to spare to seek one out. How was I going to take away time from my current job and endless graduate work to peruse Craigslist and Idealist for hours on end?
I knew I had to get creative if I wanted to connect with a new opportunity for growth, versus falling into my comfort zone of part-time work in cafés and summer youth programs. I wanted a position that would root me more in my community, allow me to have time to regroup after an extremely busy school year, and (most importantly) pay the bills. Then in April, as I was looking through my emails – boom! The School of Social Work sent out an email blast about a paid internship with Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation. I was taking a Community Development class with Dr. Paula Morelli at the time and when I asked her about the Foundation she said “Oh, they’re great! Go for it.” After a few email exchanges and an interview, I was in! The timing and description of the position could not have been a better fit, and I could not help but feel that this would be an extremely impactful experience for me...
And guess what? I was right! Since my first day at the Foundation in June, my supervisor Brant and I have joked about how this is the “best internship ever” – and the truth is that it actually is the best internship (and probably the best professional experience) I have ever had. I have met the most amazing people through this position and it has sparked a deeper connection with my Hawaiian culture, ʻāina and community. After a whirlwind year buried in books, I cannot express what a treat it has been to fully immerse myself in this internship over the past few months. During the school year I had heard about organizations such as Hoʻoulu ʻĀina, Hoʻokuaʻāina and MAʻO Organic Farms, but never had the time or opportunity to connect with them. More than once I googled work days at various ʻāina-based programs, but was either busy with school projects or too intimidated to attend without knowing anyone or being invited.
Through my internship this summer I was finally able to make connections with folks I had only heard or learned about, and was able to grow my personal knowledge of environmental programs locally and nationally. I had the opportunity to research delivery management software for Aloha Harvest, which gave me insight into national food rescue organizations and how they work. I was able to help with the Hawaiʻi Environmental Education Alliance Symposium, where I learned about amazing programs across Hawaiʻi that inspired me to build out my own curriculum with youth. I was also able to interview almost all of the Hope for Kids ʻElua Partners and was overwhelmed with the warmth and insight they shared with me about their programming, goals for evaluation, and passion for youth empowerment and sustainability.
Every Partner I talked with spoke highly of Hauʻoli Mau Loa and it is easy to see why. The way the team runs this Foundation is inspirational on multiple levels. I have been extremely supported, encouraged to grow and try new things, and included in on pivotal projects and meetings. All my life I have had to advocate for myself, work odd jobs to scrape by and, often times, deal with being overworked and underpaid. Hauʻoli Mau Loa has showed me this summer what it can look like to have a well-rounded team that values their employees, interns, Partners and community. Brant, Janis, Anela, Olivia and Keahi lead by example and have been an inspiration to me in terms of strong self-care practices, deep professional connections, and constant shared goals around growth. It is internships like this that can change the trajectory of someone's life. Grantmaking and philanthropy has finally been demystified for me, something that I never thought I would have the privilege to experience. And this is knowledge that will help me in my social work practice, with my ʻohana, and on a personal level.
In the words of Darren Walker, President of Ford Foundation, “The right internship can put a young person onto a trajectory for success.” This holds true for my experience this summer at “the best internship ever” and I now have a foothold into the philanthropy world that I would not have had otherwise. The connections I have made will not only help me in the future, but will also serve as important resources for my clients, colleagues, family and community.
Mahalo nui loa to the Foundation and to their Partners for being the best inspirations ever!