Sweat equity volunteerism

July 11, 2017

Every now and then, frustrated employees contact Christy Tomas, Hawaiian Electric’s senior community affairs consultant. They call and send her email, and sometimes they even visit her office.

She lends a sympathetic ear and empathetic voice to her fellow employees but in the end, is resolute in her response.

“Thank you for your interest but I’m very sorry, our volunteer sign-up is full for this project. If it makes you feel better, I didn’t even get in. Maybe we’ll both have better luck next time?”

Last year, more than 3,400 Hawaiian Electric employees and ohana volunteered over 11,100 hours on community service projects, from food and school supply drives to lending muscle to help a nonprofit with needed repairs.

Even with multiple projects going on in any given month, there are usually more employees who want to donate their time and talents to a worthy cause, than there are volunteer slots available.

“The culture here at Hawaiian Electric is amazing,” says Christy, who works for the company’s Education and Consumer Affairs division. “Our employees are so passionate about ‘giving back’ that we sometimes have to use a lottery system for volunteers, due to the overwhelming response we receive. We’ve also created a program called ‘People Power’ that empowers employees to lead and organize community service projects of their own.”

“It’s a really nice problem to have — so many teammates wanting to be involved. We have a lot of repeat volunteers, as well as new people who are always joining us. It’s a great way to connect and get to know each other outside of the work setting.”

The Hawaiian Electric employees have a long-standing tradition of being involved in their communities, dating back to the company’s founding in 1891. Its sister companies — Hawaii Electric Light serving Hawaii Island, and Maui Electric serving Maui, Molokai, and Lanai — have similar histories of employee involvement and community support (Hawaii Electric Light’s 239 volunteers contributed 3,420 hours last year, while Maui Electric’s 344 volunteers contributed 1,718 hours).

Last year, to commemorate its 125th anniversary, Hawaiian Electric announced “125 Acts of Aloha” to support the community even further with donations and service projects that benefit agencies and programs committed to building a better and more sustainable future for Hawaii.

These 125 ”Acts” focus on education, family and community support, and environmental stewardship.

Environmental stewardship is of particular interest to the company’s employees. They recognize the isolation the islands have from the U.S. Mainland and rest of the world and thus, know the importance of sustainability and protecting natural resources.

Locals call this “caring for the aina (land).” And Hawaiian Electric employees aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty in order to do this.

“It’s Sweat Equity Volunteerism,” says Christy. “It’s us, as employees, getting in the community, getting in the loi*, and using our People Power to make a difference in the places we live.”

*”Loi” is the Hawaiian word for irrigated terrace or paddy, often associated with the taro plant — a staple of the native Hawaiian diet and symbolic of Hawaiian culture. Hawaiian Electric employees have volunteered for projects where they were knee-deep in mud, working with taro or helping to repair ancient Hawaiian fishponds.

“Our employees don’t mind hard, physical work and getting sweaty and muddy for a good cause. In fact, a lot of them ask for more projects like these, where we can really get into the land and work with it. And I think that’s what makes what we do so special — it comes from the heart.”



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