Summer Time Blues

Collage of Hookuaaina Interns
It’s that time of year again…. Dusting off backpacks, gathering supplies, haircuts, alarms, uniforms. It all begins to settle in that this short season of fun is about to end and everyone in my household walks around with their heads hanging low. I have to admit, Dean and I do it too. I often wonder why the shift?  Summer does not end here in Hawaii. No matter what our schedule, we can still run to the beach and do the things we love to do. It’s a mental thing I guess. We are conditioned to think that we are losing freedom and being forced into drudgery, homework, routine.

The blues are not just in our family. You can also sense it on the farm. The crew is definitely feeling the shift. Their routine has not changed. Every week, no matter the season, it’s the same – weeding, digging, planting, pulling. But something happened last week that triggered a sense of loss and dread that this short and sweet season has come to an end.

Hookuaaina Intern CrewAt the beginning of the summer, we already had a solid intern crew.  Over the course of the year, they had become like family. I imagine they were a little reluctant to welcome in the new summer crew with the fear that it might interrupt the nice groove they were in. When new recruits arrive, there is always a time of sizing up by the veterans to see if theyʻve got what it takes. Will they be able to handle the long, hot, grueling days of trudging in the mud? What transpired was nothing less than miraculous. Within the first week of the newbie’s arrival, I heard them exchanging numbers, adding to the group text that had been circulating and making plans for fun outside of the loʻi. Nothing is more satisfying for leaders of a program to watch this happen. Over the weeks, the 10 of them grew closer and were often planning weekly activities outside the loʻi.

The Kūkuluhou Internship is a launching pad. There are no time limits on how long an intern can stay. Itʻs up to the intern and what he or she needs at this stage in life. Our goal is that they would build the skills and the confidence needed for the next stage of their life journey.  For one intern, he needed to stay 7 years and now has a full-time job as an arborist. For another, it has been 3 years and he will be moving on to a full-time position in a nursery. The majority stay about a year but for others who are away at university, they just want to spend their summer being a part of something that feels meaningful and worthwhile. They all think they are coming to learn about kalo but walk away with something much more. The greatest assets are the life long friendships and connection to a place they can always call home. But itʻs also the unexpected breakthroughs that are the most meaningful takeaways when their internship at Hoʻokuaʻāina comes to a close.

A few reflections from the summer crew:

“My view of myself has changed because I am more aware of the ability I have to add to something greater than myself. I can accomplish little on my own, but as a part of a hui and as a component of a working unit can be a lot more productive. This internship has taught me to love the work I do and the people Iʻm with and to carry that love with me wherever I go.”

“I see myself as a pretty quiet and reserved person, and in a way that hasnʻt changed, but what has changed is that over this summer I was forced to get out of my comfort zone and work with people I didnʻt know. It was uncomfortable for me at first, to be working at a new place with new people who all already seemed to know each other and be good friends. Fortunately, I was welcomed immediately at Hoʻokuaʻāina and immediately felt like I was part of the ʻohana. Thanks to my experience here this summer, I view myself as someone who is more capable of working with others and building solid relationships with people.”

“For the first time I truly feel like I belong and am not some sort of outsider. When I am at the loʻi there is no need to hide any aspects of myself, everything flows naturally without second thought. Here I am my truest self. I used to struggle with this, particularly in my teenage years when I was silent and hid from everyone and everything. It is liberating and empowering to be so unapologetically weird and shamelessly me.”

“I came into the job shy and unsure of how I was expected to act. I have learned that I am not compared to and measured by the talents of those around me. I am a part of a task far greater than myself. By looking to support the greater purpose I find value and become connected to those around me.”

Unfortunately, the hardest part of our program is the moment we have to say goodbye. These young people have become a part of our extended ʻohana and it often feels just like sending one of our children off to school when they move on.

Last week was that moment for four of our ʻohana. Planes delivered them to Georgia, Kentucky, Utah and one remains in Hawaii to finish his degree.

One season ends, another begins. Although the future is bright and many good things lie ahead for these young people, we canʻt help feeling the blues.

By Michele Wilhelm