Last month Hawaii’s business, government and community leaders gathered along the waterfront of Kewalo Basin to celebrate the launch of Ho‘āhu, a capital campaign for the Kupu Green Job Training Center. Just a few years ago, that same property was the site of drugs, homelessness and crime. Now it is the site of great hope for Hawaii’s youth and its growing “green” economy.

The Kupu Green Job Training Center is a $2.75 million project to redevelop the existing Net Shed structure to create a “piko” or center of O`ahu with the first-of-its-kind facility for creating leadership in the growing green jobs sector, one of the fastest growing sectors of the Hawaii economy.

The State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has projected a 26 percent increase in 2012 in green jobs, compared to a mere one percent overall growth rate for other sectors. In addition to renewable energy and sustainability training, the center will also equip Kupu’s members in conservation and send young adults out statewide to assist with critical natural resource management issues. An example of this has been through its Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps programs that engage hundreds of young adults in paid summer through year-round service positions annually.

Kupu provides service-learning programs in the green jobs sector.  These programs are a catalyst to support the over 80 partner sites throughout Hawaii and the Pacific Basin serving industries like conservation, renewable energy, agriculture, and sustainability.  Kupu’s programs develop the next generation of leaders in these industries by producing young adults who have the experience, knowledge, passion, and character necessary to build a more sustainable future.

The “Net Shed,” nicknamed because it was used to dry the fishing nets of Hawaii’s former commercial fishing industry, had fallen into disrepair, vandalism and crime until it became a base of Kupu’s statewide programs. Kupu worked to restore life back to the area through improvements in the facilities, gardens, shower areas, and surrounding space, and through programs that breathe life back into the community by providing training and leadership opportunities to Hawaii’s youth.

The Center will itself represent a source of sustainability, through photovoltaic energy panels, aquaponics for food production, LEED certified construction, waterfront preservation and micro-enterprise entrepreneurship. It will be a scalable model for economic self-sufficiency, a community for interaction, cooperation, and living and breathing aloha.

Kupu programs serve many under-resourced youth who would not have job skills or a career path without the environmental conservation training and education stipends that Kupu provides. Kupu has served more than 2,000 youth, engaging 17,000 volunteers, and providing more than $7 million benefit to Hawaii through its programs annually. This includes over 230,000 service hours in the natural resource management realm and over a half million dollars in college and continued education funds through its AmeriCorps grant to Hawaii’s youth in 2011 alone.
Additionally Kupu is making a large impact in the sustainability areas. Since 2011, Kupu along with partners Kanu and the Blue Planet Foundation have worked together to develop an energy conservation program that has saved homeowners over $1.7 million in energy savings in just ten months.

Kupu was developed in response to the growing needs of Hawaii’s communities to train up the next generation in natural resource management, renewable energy, energy conservation and other green job skill sets. Kupu is predicated on the Hawaiian concept of maka hana ka `ike, “in working one learns.” Kupu programs teach youth vital work skills as well as leadership, responsibility and learning to serve the community, incorporating vocational training, educational degree achievement and service learning. The end result has been workforce development with more local youth entering into program target industries like natural resource management where 56% of the 80 partner sites Kupu works with indicated they had hired or planned to hire a Kupu alumni in 2011.

The word “kupu” in Hawaiian means “to sprout, grow, germinate, or increase” and like the kupukupu fern (which is one of the first plants to bring life back to the land after a devastating lava flow), Kupu’s heart is to bring life back to the people, the land, and the ocean.

Kupu’s long-term vision of the Kewalo Basin space is to create, in the center of O`ahu, a modern day kauhale or separate buildings that house different functions and together create an integrated community to serve the economic, education and health needs of its members while developing a workforce that will fill the growing “green” sector job demands and make Hawaii an example of sustainability to the world.

The Kupu Green Job Training Center sets forth a vision in Kaka’ako that promotes positive economic development, preserves our diverse cultural heritage, incorporates best practices in energy and environmental sustainability, and fosters a live, work, visit, learn and play mixed use community.

About the author: * As a Wharton School graduate, John Leong earned a self-created degree in Environmental Policy & Management and Entrepreneurial Management. He serves as Executive Director of Kupu which houses 7 different programs that provide training and service opportunities for youth/young adults in the areas of natural resource management, conservation and sustainability.*

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