Kupu ʻĀina Corps provides meaningful work in sustainability, Hawaiian culture

by Dan Kaneko | Oct. 29, 2022

(Hawaiian diacritical marks included to appreciate the full story.)

During my years as a student at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, I always looked forward to the field trips where we would spend the day working in the ʻāina at a remote location. Getting out of the classroom and into a loʻi or fishpond was always a refreshing and enriching experience. I found the sentiment shared by two Hawaiian Electric interns who are participants in this year’s Kupu ʻĀina Corps, a program supported by our company that provides opportunities for individuals to explore environmental and sustainability careers.

Through the Kupu ʻĀina Corps, Chanelle Morimatsu and Lee Danielle Young were recruited by Hawaiian Electric to help Hawaii advance its clean energy goals. Our company is one of Kupu’s many partner organizations that are providing paid, career-building employment opportunities in a field related to sustainability or Hawaiian culture.

After living away from Hawaiʻi for the past 14 years, Chanelle took the opportunity to get reacquainted with Hawaiian culture while reestablishing a connection to the ʻāina. She currently supports the operations of our Customer Energy Resources (CER) team, which serves customers with rooftop solar, storage and grid services.

Chanelle Morimatsu, left, and Lee Danielle Young, third from right, up in the mountains for a monthly service project.

“After moving back home from Las Vegas, I was looking to try something different and this was the perfect opportunity,” Chanelle said. “I’ve been able to get out there and get back in touch with Hawaiian culture while working in sustainability and clean energy.”

For Lee Danielle, who works with our Transmission & Distribution and Interconnection Planning and CER teams, Kupu ʻĀina Corps has given her the chance to get the kinds of hands-on experience in Hawaiʻi that she never had growing up.

“As someone who was born and raised on the south side of Oʻahu as a “townie,” I couldn’t find readily available opportunities where I could get my hands dirty,” Lee Danielle said. “Kupu ʻĀina Corps is a great way for folks to get outside, get their hands dirty and gain experience in fields related to the environment and sustainability. Literally, we are sometimes in the field!”

Lee Danielle, left, working in a loʻi with fellow Kupu ʻĀina Corps interns.

Although their work with Hawaiian Electric has been office-based, Chanelle and Lee Danielle have had ample opportunities to work outdoors during monthly service projects at other host sites. The unique format of the program gives participants a variety of work experiences and an abundance of opportunities to meet other environmentally-conscious individuals.

“I love being able to meet different people and take care of local places,” Lee Danielle said. “It’s very gratifying to do this work with others who care just as much about the future of Hawaiʻi, the environment, mālama ʻāina, and sustainability!”

Through Kupu’s extensive network of partnering organizations and agencies, the Kupu ʻĀina Corps program offers paid opportunities in a range of fields including ornithology, botany, natural and aquatic resource management, marine biology, Hawaiian cultural studies, agricultural science and more. This year’s program started in February and will last one year. I will be following up with Chanelle and Lee Danielle as they progress through the program. If you are interested in applying for the Kupu ʻĀina Corps program or would like to learn more, please visit Kupu’s website.

Dan Kaneko is a digital communications and social media specialist at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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Established in 1891, Hawaiian Electric is committed to empowering its customers and communities by providing affordable, reliable, clean and sustainable energy.