Giving Back to Hawaii: “Home Improvements” Inspire Keiki Involvement

volunteers cleaning the beach

by Dawna L. Robertson

Our island home is a magical collection of natural wonders unique in the world. With this gift comes the kuleana (responsibility) to malama (care for) our beautiful treasures from aina (land) to kai (ocean).

Hawaii parents understand the obligation to share with keiki the vital lessons learned when growing up–that we all must serve as guardians of our lands, ocean, the air we breathe, and places preserving the history and traditions of our culture. This “practice what you preach” lifestyle encompasses everything from removing invasive species and maintaining wetland ecosystems to recycling and using sustainable products whenever possible.


In recent years, local nonprofit groups and community organizations have ramped up this focus on missions of malama. Residents and visitors alike are welcome to chip in with time and energy at workdays dedicated to safeguarding our environment and cultural landmarks.

Most feature calendars on their websites with activity description plus details on age limitations, physical requirements, length of time, what to wear, tools supplied and a contact to answer additional questions.

Simply arrive with a desire to work in the great outdoors! Roll up your sleeves, prepare to get your hands dirty, possibly find your feet caked in mud, and then bask in the pleasure of knowing your ohana is protecting and respecting Hawaii’s abundant gifts.

To follow are unique, fun and easy-to-strenuous opportunities to nurture our islands. Gather your family together, determine which activities peak your collective interests and find a fit for your schedule. Then sign up, show up and make a true connection from ridge to reef.

Know that in this process, keiki should be inspired by life lessons to help protect the Hawaiian Islands for generations to come.

Volunteers clean up at Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden
Volunteers clean up at Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden. Photo Credit: Kimeona Kane, 808 Clean Ups

Malama Reef To Ridge

Apuahaa is a Hawaiian land segment typically extending from the mountains to the ocean. Supporting and empowering volunteers to restore Hawaii from mauka to makai, 808 Cleanups projects run the gamut. Families can jump into everything from beach park and coastal maintenance to removing invasive plants and reintroducing native species along hiking trails.

Check the 808 Cleanups website calendar workday sign ups. Or download the 808 Cleanups App for regularly scheduled cleanup options and “Adopt A Site” events targeting a cleaner, safer and stronger Oahu.

Striving to maintain a healthy and productive Maunalua Bay, Malama Maunalua operates with a mantra of “For the Bay, For the Future, For Life.” MM works extensively across East Oahu region ecosystems to help restore bay marine resources. Assist by outplanting native urchins as a biocontrol for mitigating the growth of invasive algae.

The nonprofit’s experiential “Tree to Sea Camp” for ages 12-14 is held annually during spring break. Keiki submerse into sustainability, marine science, ahupuaa and watershed management, as well as develop guardian skills through hands-on conservation-based work that deepens understanding of science and Hawaiian culture.

child cleaning the beach
As part of Malama Maunalua’s ongoing sustainability efforts, keiki gain firsthand experience in environmental conservation-based work. Photo Credit: Alex Awo, Malama Maunalua

Grassroots Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii inspires via immersive, large-scale beach cleanups exposing ohana to the potential mistakes we make during day-to-day life. Beyond ridding our habitat of litter, participants learn about plastic pollution from products used on a daily basis and how to turn off the tap by changing consumption habits.

Adding a splash of “spook-tacular” fun, the SCH Halloween Cleanup Festival immerses keiki to kupuna into the spirit of the holiday while donning costumes during a friendly cleanup.

Hawaii’s four chapters of the National Surfrider Foundation network of coastal defenders also target protection of marine life via volunteer cleanups of plastic pollution and debris from shorelines and near-shore waters. Bump up the service level by recording data on trash retrieved during the event. Those details are logged into the National Surfrider database to track the efforts of each of its local Surfrider chapters.

Further inland, chip in and clean mountain streams to prevent debris from flowing into bays and beaches, or plant rainwater-retaining gardens to impede ocean runoff.

As Sierra Club of Hawaii projects lead group hikes and outings into Hawaii’s scenic wilds, mindful processes roll out along the way. The club’s Malama Tree Crew celebrates the great outdoors while fighting the impact of climate change and sharing best practices for native tree maintenance. Know that reforestation, carbon sequestration and native plant restoration projects require more than simply planting. Volunteers are desperately needed for ongoing maintenance.

Malama Aina

Kakoo Oiwi and Hooku Aina fuel minds while tracing early Hawaiian methods of sustainable farming and natural resource conservancy.

Through kalo (taro) cultivating and Hawaiian values-based coaching, Kakoo Oiwi empowers youth via development of life strategies and skills to help build healthy communities. In its flagship Hokulani mentoring program, ages 12-15 connect with land, culture and populace via one-on-one guidance from experienced life coaches.

Gatherings zero in on taro patches (Monday, Thursday, Friday), Wetland Restoration (Tuesday) and Community Workdays on the first Saturday of each month. In the same realm, Papahana Kuaola takes taro management and upkeep to a mountain valley stream and dry-land gardens at Windward Oahu’s 4,400-acre Kualoa Ranch.

volunteers at He‘eia Wetlands
Workdays at Kako‘o ‘Oiwi involve restoring and protecting native species, growing taro, and caring for the cultural landscapes of the He‘eia Wetlands. Photo Credit: Kako’o ‘Oiwi

Restoring Ancient Hawaii Fishponds

Loko Ia (fishponds) were devised by early Hawaiians for trapping ocean or stream fish via sluice gates. Most common were rock wall-enclosed shallow ponds once numbering in the hundreds. Several are still in existence largely through vigorous volunteer efforts.

On Oahu, the 400-year-old royal Loko Ia Paaiau is a beautiful reminder of the peace, healing and harmony of Hawaii’s past. On the National Historic Register, this sacred site is currently stewarded and restored in conjunction with the U.S. Navy, Alii Pauahi Hawaiian Civic Club, Aiea Community Association, and descendants/residents of Paaiau, Aiea and Kalauao, and the larger community.

While removing pickleweed and clearing pathways along the pond, know that every hand makes a difference. Also check out volunteer programs at Paepae o Heeia and Malama Loko Ea Foundation.

volunteers work to revitalize Kaloko Fishpond on Kona Island
Helpers work to revitalize Kaloko Fishpond on Kona Island for educational, archaeological, cultural and environmental purposes. Photo Credit: Hui Kaloko Honokohau

Neighbor Island Kokua

Beaches, coastal trails and upland hiking paths also beg for restoration on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island. Celebrate kokua while exploring some of Hawaii’s most scenic and rarely visited landscapes.


Maui Cultural Lands: Help preserve rich cultural sites in pristine Honokowai Valley and Kipuka Olowalu.

Aoao O Na Loko Ia O Maui: Revitalize Koieie Fishpond in Kihei’s Kalepolepo Park for educational, archaeological, cultural and recreational purposes.


Friends of Kamalani Playground and Lydgate Beach Park: Enjoy family friendly fun during Saturday morning cleanups at Morgan’s Pond and larger events observing Earth Day (April) and National Make a Difference Day (October).

Hawaii Island

EKF: Learn the Hawaiian value of noho papa (relationship with one’s place of residence) through generational learning, active practice and study. Projects in Hilo, Hamakua, Kau and Puna employ a traditional learning style where participants get dirty, wet and tired.

Hui Kaloko Honokohau: Visit the Kekaha Region of Kona to help rehabilitate Kaloko to once again be a thriving fishpond supporting healthy people, relationships, diets, fisheries and ecosystems.

Hawaii Land Trust: Work the soil and remove invasive species from little-seen Hawaii refuges and preserves.

Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative: Repopulate a rare dryland native tree forest where ancient wiliwili trees persist in some of the roughest terrain in Hawaii.

Friends of Haleakala National Park & Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Build trails, assist in wetland restoration and control invasive species on Maui or reforest slopes with native tree seedlings and clear park trails on Kilauea Volcano.

Helping Honu

Releasing more than 17,000 turtle hatchlings into the wild, East Oahu’s Sea Life Park Honu Conservation Program provides ongoing education about the magnificent Green Sea Turtle and its vital role in reef ecosystems. The park has also established projects to provide specific solutions for Hawaiian Monk Seal and Native Seabirds.

Cover Image Photo Credit: Alex Awo, Malama Maunalua

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