Each spring, Camp Kokua youth identify social issues of concern to them and establish a service theme for the summer camp. Then, in August, youth volunteers and their adult counselors dedicate a portion of each day to projects addressing those concerns. The rest of the day includes learning from local nonprofit experts through field trips, tours, lectures, videos and games.
“Kokua” means “come and help” in the Hawaiian language. Camp Kokua youth complete as many as 50 hours of service during camp and then are challenged to complete 50 more throughout the year to earn the President’s Youth Service Award.
Camp Kokua was founded in 2002 in partnership with the University of Hawaii’s Service Learning Program. Now in its fourth year, Camp Kokua has involved youth in a plethora of service projects, including literacy, the environment, driving and natural disasters and emergency response.
The town of Wahiawa, with a large population of Micronesian immigrants, has one of the lowest literacy rates in the state. Camp Kokua worked with Read to Me International, the UH 4H Read to Me Project, Rainbow Preschool, the YMCA, and Aged to Perfection to read aloud to preschool students and senior citizens. As a follow up project, Ho’ala School’s 5th –6th grade students worked with Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs to conduct further community reading projects.
Hawaii is one of the world’s most unique ecological systems. It is also one of the most endangered. Camp Kokua worked with Volcanoes National Park and the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii to remove invasive species and plant native seedlings. As a follow-up, Ho’ala’s middle school participated in a 6-month stewardship project with the Nature Conservancy.
On the island of Oahu, unsafe driving due to drunk driving, road racing and road rage is a serious concern to youth. Working in partnership with MADD, DTRIC Insurance and the Honolulu Police Department, Camp Kokua youth hosted a “Honk for Safe Driving Campaign.” They also performed and filmed safe driving skills called Skidmarks aired on community television. As a follow-up, youth volunteers sponsored a safe-driving free car wash on Make A Difference Day.
This summer, Camp Kokua worked with local nonprofit and state organizations to become youth emergency responders, helping to establish a pilot program for other Hawaii students.