Aloha, Appalachian summer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Joshua Bailey-Belista glanced outside the airplane windows Tuesday and noticed lush mountains rising above the blistering tarmac at Yeager Airport. He has come to West Virginia to help preserve the nature he saw from that window.
Bailey-Belista goes to Pipestem State Park on Wednesday to begin trail maintenance, weed removal, litter collection, general repairs and walkway construction. His group includes 11 other teenagers from Hawaii.
"If you take care of the land," Bailey-Belista said, "the land will take care of you."
The teenagers wore yellow leis Tuesday at the gate at Yeager and voiced a Hawaiian chant called an "Oli" to commemorate the entrance to a sacred place.
Most have never been to the continental United States.
Norlyn Cabonce said the West Virginian landscape somewhat resembles Hawaii. She comes from the Hawaiian island of Lanai, which has no traffic lights and only 2,000 residents. Charleston seems more fast-paced, Cabonce said.
She decided that she wanted to spend the summer doing something worthwhile and subsequently enrolled in a program run by the Hawaiian nonprofit group Kupu. The program trains teenagers to practice "green" job skills such as natural resource management and renewable energy conservation. It immerses teenagers in service learning programs.
Cabonce and other students have spent the past five weeks completing conservation work in the Hawaiian Islands. They have preserved trails, picked weeds and cleared brush to prevent runoff.
They are here to do the same for West Virginia.
The Citizens Conservation Corps organized the partnership with Kupu. The corps has spearheaded the 2013 Reach the Summit Initiative, which includes more than 350 service projects sprinkled throughout nine counties in Southern West Virginia.
The initiative coincides with the Boy Scout Jamboree, which kicked off Tuesday. More than 40,000 Boy Scouts also must complete service projects over the next five days. Many of those projects are conservation efforts.
The Hawaiians certainly understand the importance of conservation. They have watched pollution destroy coral reefs and watersheds across their state.
Ancient Hawaiians preserved the islands for thousands of years, Bailey-Belista said. The teenagers who have come to West Virginia aim to recapture that spirit. They said they hope to pass a cleaner environment on to their children and grandchildren.
"Our generation is only borrowing nature for the future," volunteer Kamuela Bannister said.
Reach Laura Reston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5112.