Jon Brito is being honored as a Next Generation of Conservation Leaders Champion of Change.
I am honored and truly grateful to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change. To be honest it came as a surprise to me because all that I have done is followed my passion of giving back to a community that has provided me with such rich experiences and support.
The summer after I finished high school, I signed up with the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC) as a team member, one of the many environmental opportunities offered by Kupu, an organization that was created to train the next generation of Hawaiian youth to serve as natural resource management, renewable energy, and conservation career professionals. I was inspired by the two team leaders for our Moloka’i crew, who really knew not only how to handle a bunch of high school aged kids, but also understood how to engage us and make something that seemed pretty boring (planting) into something meaningful (learning the Hawaiian names of the plants).
Drawing from my initial HYCC experience, after college I was inspired four years later to become a Team Leader for HYCC on Moloka’i. My team was just like me four years ago: they had an idea where they wanted to go, but were pretty lost and did not know how to find their way. This presented the chance to show them the wonders conservation yields, how fun it can be, and that it could lead to a wealth of job opportunities and a rewarding career. We did hikes in the rain forests of the Kamakou Preserve looking for the elusive and endangered Hawaiian tree snail. We planted kalo in lo’i that our ancestors used for centuries.
I ended an enriching summer and decided on doing an AmeriCorps term with the non-profit Ka Honua Momona. Our main project was to restore 500 year old Native Hawaiian fishponds while incorporating Molokai’s youth in that process. I worked directly with the young adults that came through. They all came from different backgrounds with many different reasons but were all equally enlightening and great people. Many had no idea about the environmental issues that were happening in their own backyards. I tried to show them the danger that places like our reefs and forests were in, and that saving them could be part of the legacy of our generation. It was really cool to see them come back on volunteer days when they didn’t have to be there to help out with restoring the fishponds.
I served another term as an HYCC team leader due to lack of candidates on the island. My second team worked just as hard as the first, and our work ethics were rewarded with a helicopter trip into the remote valley of Pelekunu to do invasive game and plant surveys for The Nature Conservancy.
I think it is important for our youth,especially on Moloka’i, to connect culturally to ‘aina because Hawaiian culture is all about making sure that the resources that are available to you will also be available for future generations. One of things that I have learned in the process is that the work I accomplished with the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps is happening all across the nation. The Corps Movement and The Corps Network are growing stronger, while young people are serving their communities, the Earth, and improving their own lives. It is also empowering to see some of the members of my previous team not only active but employed with various conservation organizations. I wish nothing but the best for them and am grateful with our shared experiences. I hope to be able to continue empowering youth to accomplish their dreams and to remember the connection that they have with the land.
Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono
The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.
Jon Brito is an alumni of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, a program under the non-profit Kupu dedicated to empowering youth to serve their communities through character building, service-learning, and environmental stewardship opportunities across all 8 Hawaiian islands.