by Christine Hanakawa
The hardworking faculty, staff, and volunteers of Oʻahu Urban Garden Center know first-hand the continuous commitment it takes to keep the place clean. But lately, the weeds have been mounting a comeback.
So the O’ahu 4-H, a CTAHR program, reached out to the Hawaiʻi Youth Challenge Academy. Commandant Saifoloi Filisi graciously agreed to partner on several service projects at UGC – and the manpower they provided has been priceless.
During four Saturdays in April and May, about 60 cadets volunteered and completed some of their community service hours. These young men and women, 16-18 years old, weeded plots and around crops, picked up trash, and weed-whacked the overgrown slope along the border of Home Depot and its parking lot. They even cleared overgrown plants surrounding a monkey pod tree that covered the bus drop-off area. The tree had been compromised and arborists were not able to see the base and roots of the tree until the plants were pulled out.
With their own two hands, the work done by these youths compared to the capacity that UGC faculty, staff, and volunteers could do over weeks and months. In fact, the weeded plots gives UGC new opportunities to have field days and to start new projects.
Jari Sugano noted she was most impressed with the cadets’ positive attitude, dedication in doing a good job, and commitment to attending to their school work in their down time.
While working, the cadets told us about an aquaponics system at their facility and how they’re looking to build a butterfly house. When Extension agents heard this, they educated the cadets about cover crops, pests, weed management, and pollinators. Josh Silva showed them how a static hydroponics system works. The agents gave the cadets mint, lettuce, and crown flower branch cuttings for their gardens.
The cadets were very respectful and enjoyed being outdoors. Some expressed interest in coming back to volunteer or whether they could work at UGC. What I saw at the end of the day as they left in their bus was a sense of accomplishment, pride, and priceless expressions on their faces – something I cannot put into words. I look forward to one day seeing them back at UGC.