This past spring I graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Economics. Fresh out of college, I wanted to devote this summer to explore potential career paths.
Given my strong passion for community service and helping underserved groups, I chose to search for opportunities to work for a nonprofit organization that aligned with my interests. Therefore, when I discovered that Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation (the Foundation) was offering a paid summer internship, I eagerly applied! I was well aware of the important role that the Foundation had played in channeling financial resources to nonprofit organizations to support their efforts to address the needs of at-risk youth, protect the environment, respond to international humanitarian crises, and advance many other causes that are important to me. I also viewed this internship as a unique opportunity to possibly gain a more detailed understanding of how a private grantmaking foundation operates and contributes to the betterment of the community. For these reasons, I could not have felt more thankful when the Foundation selected me as their summer intern. I joined the Foundation with high expectations and after completing my internship, I realized that the experiences I gained exceeded all expectations. Over the course of a few months, I forged lasting relationships with amazing people, engaged in productive work, and gained a wealth of new knowledge about organized philanthropy and the nonprofit sector in Hawaiʻi.
From the get-go, the internship was everything I hoped that it would be. The staff was very helpful and welcoming, which eased the adjustment into my new position. Most importantly, Brant Chillingworth, my supervisor, always made an effort to assign me projects to work on that were stimulating, challenging, and purposeful. In particular, I enjoyed conducting research and gathering information on issues of importance to the Foundation. For example, one of my projects involved compiling data on the corporate sustainability practices of companies in the Foundation’s equity investment portfolio. The information I collected helped to clarify whether the sustainability performances of our investees were on par with their industry peers. To summarize my findings to staff, I prepared a written report as well as informative graphs and charts.
Furthermore, I spent considerable time finding online resources and tools that could potentially benefit the Foundation as well as its grantees. For example, in one project, I learned how to use Google My Maps, an online service that can be utilized by nonprofits to create and publish digital maps which illustrate the geographic locations of community resources, hot spots, patterns and trends. Based on my knowledge of the online service, I gave a presentation to staff on how to use the software and created a map that pinpoints the locations of all ʻāina-based education programs across Hawai’i. In working on these types of projects, I developed more effective time management, organization, and research skills, which I can utilize in both graduate school and future jobs.
Along with honing my research and analytical skills, I gained invaluable insights into philanthropy and nonprofit work through an array of educational experiences. On top of reading extensive literature about grant making, nonprofit management, and impact investing, I was afforded numerous opportunities to observe up close the work of each member of the Foundation’s staff, including the operations manager, the program team, and the executive director. By participating in weekly staff meetings and shadowing employees in various work settings, I learned about the important activities of the Foundation such as event planning, project management and community outreach.
Furthermore, I attended informative conferences and seminars supported by the Foundation. For example, I learned about the fundamentals of impact investing by attending a presentation given by representatives of the Kresge Foundation at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Hoʻokupu Center. At another seminar hosted by the Foundation, the executive director of PEAK Grantmaking explained the important aspects of grant management. I also had the opportunity to volunteer and contribute to the Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference (HCC) held at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center. HCC featured scientists, policymakers, conservation practitioners and students from across the state who gave presentations on various environmental issues related to conservation and resource management.
In addition to my attendance at these conferences and seminars, I joined staff on periodic visits to our partners’ sites. These site visits helped to put a human face on our grantees, and gave me the opportunity to meet the hardworking staff and volunteers of the nonprofits that we fund as well as participate in the amazing activities that they provide to the community. For instance, when Brant and I attended a community work day hosted by KKV Comprehensive Family Services’ Hoʻoulu ʻĀina Program, we observed their hands-on initiatives to develop Kalihi Valley into a center for culturally-grounded, ʻāina-based activities that educate youth and mālama the ʻāina. Brant and I participated in an art project in which we used ʻohe kapala (bamboo stamps) to print colorful designs on fabric that we were allowed to take home with us. We also toured an organic garden that the community has been cultivating over the past several years. I also observed other projects at Hoʻoulu ʻĀina such as invasive species removal and organic reforestation. On another site visit, the entire staff and I went to Paepae o Heʻeia, where we removed invasive mangrove from the kuapā (wall) that encircles the Heʻeia Fishpond in order to preserve it as a unique space for cultural, educational and aqua cultural programs for the community. The opportunities that I had to sweat and get my hands dirty by working alongside our partners in their various projects definitely enhanced my appreciation for the important work that they perform.
Another important aspect of this internship was learning about the variety of ways that the Foundation lends important support to its partners. Their approach to grant making reflects the Foundation’s desire to build relationships based on trust, respect, and mutual-learning. Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation seeks to assist its partners in ways that go far beyond simply writing a check. Besides providing financial support to its partners, the Foundation shares information, promotes their leadership and work, opens doors to new opportunities, and hosts events that equip them to make a lasting impact in the community. One such event is the Foundation’s annual convening of its Hope for Kids partners during which participants share knowledge and insights, and collaborate on the development of strategies to address mutual issues and challenges in the field. Attending this meeting was my favorite experience of the internship. It was inspiring to see the staff of so many nonprofit organizations from across the state network, exchange ideas, and plan for the future. Moreover, since the convening took place at the main sites of partners such as MAʻO Farms, Hoa ʻĀina o Mākaha, and Kaʻala Farm, participants were able to gain new insights from observing the work of their peers. Overall, I thought the convening was a huge success and demonstrated that grantmakers can serve as important resources not only for funding, but also the sharing of knowledge, fostering positive working relationships, and by supporting grantee partners and the communities that they serve.
As a result of my summer internship at the Foundation, I feel that I will be better prepared to face opportunities and challenges in the future. This March, I will begin serving in the Peace Corps as a Community and Youth Development Volunteer in Armenia. After completing my service, I plan on pursuing graduate studies that will enable me to enter a career either in the public sector or with a non-profit organization that addresses the needs of at-risk youth and underserved communities. I firmly believe that through this internship, I have gained invaluable knowledge, skills, and experience that I can apply throughout my studies and professional career. I am incredibly grateful to the Foundation’s staff — Brant, Janis, Olivia, Anela, and Keahi — for their guidance and encouragement. I hope the Foundation will continue to offer internship opportunities to other young people so that they can be inspired to become agents of change in their communities. Thank you Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation for such an amazing experience!