For the past four weeks a group of amateur astronomers, under the direction of Dr. J.D. Armstrong, Educational Outreach Coordinator for the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, have been setting up amateur telescopes at some of the hotels where people who have lost their homes have been staying. Derek Takeno of the Red Cross asked Armstrong if it was possible to bring some telescopes out for the residents. Studies have shown that astronomy outreach has a positive mental effect for people suffering from trauma and depression. Plus, the effort, named Stars of Hope, has had an outpouring of volunteers who also have experienced a sense of happiness in being able to share some aloha with people affected by the fires.
“Our volunteers consist of people with a passion for astronomy, including astronomy students from UH Maui College and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) teachers,” said Dr. Cindy L. Krach, Haleakala Amateur Astronomers. “Individuals from these groups bring out telescopes and set them up on the hotel grounds. Royal Lahaina hotel was the initial site, then Honua Kai, and the Westin Hotel in Kaanapali. The volunteers set up telescopes and then show off the night sky, sharing their knowledge. We have talked story with adults and children alike, some evenings speaking to between 30 and 100 individuals. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere outside in nature. People can just walk up to anyone with a telescope and are encouraged to have a look and ask questions.”
Armstrong reflected, “I just want to do something for people so they know we care. Some people want to share their stories, sometimes they just want to have a relaxing evening under the stars, enjoying a unique experience.”
Krach added, “There is a sense of quiet and peace, but also excitement, particularly with the children. We have received positive feedback from the Red Cross and the people that come to the events. Some have said they had never had the opportunity to look through a telescope before. One little girl came back four times to look at the moon, saying, ‘It’s just so beautiful.’”
We hope to continue our weekly Stars of Hope parties and in the future we’re also planning some events for first responders and their families.
Dr. Cindy L. Krach, Haleakala Amateur Astronomers
Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) has developed a wide-ranging slate of programs to advance K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education for the County of Maui and statewide. Together with an extensive network of partners, MEDB has initiated innovative educational programs and services that support both students and educators. Their end goal is a resident workforce with the technological capabilities, innovation, critical thinking, and entrepreneurial skills to participate fully in Hawaii’s economy.
“Essentially, MEDB’s educational programs are designed to balance the need for economic stability and diversity,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “We design each program with respect for the community’s cultural and environmental traditions.”
Recently, MEDB hosted 150 middle and high school students and STEM educators for Student Space Exploration Day. Participants met with former astronaut Scott ‘Scooter’ Altman for a firsthand discussion of living and working in space. The students also experienced hands-on scientific demonstrations and presentations of advanced technologies.
Altman, a retired United States Navy Captain, talked about his four Space Shuttle missions as well as his time as a Naval aviator, test pilot, engineer, and astronaut. “I like to engage with students because it’s important that we connect with the next generation and get them interested in space-related issues,” he said. “It will be students in this age group, whom I am talking to today, who might be the first ones on Mars!”
Melinda White, Hawaii Technology Academy STEM educator, said, “It’s amazing to bring students to this event and expose them to career pathways that exist for their future in Hawaii. We are a STEMworks™ school and truly appreciate all the opportunities MEDB provides for students across the state; such as their Lending Library which includes a portable planetarium.”
Wilson Chau, a Maui High School junior, said, “Meeting astronaut Scott Altman was a great experience. I am currently doing a project with the James Webb telescope and I learned so much from Mr. Altman’s talk. Thank you, MEDB and STEMworks, for all the opportunities you give students from different backgrounds to encounter the current advances in technology. I am grateful for this chance to further my career goals.”
Student Space Exploration Day really opens the students up to different opportunities they never even thought of. It is so difficult to get exposure like this for them. MEDB makes it all happen!
Jennifer Suzuki, Maui Waena School Technology Teacher
For the past 30 years, Maui resident Louis Coulombe has built a reputation for Lahaina’s beachfront restaurant, Pacific’o on the Beach. While there are no words for the amount of loss and tragedy that continues to unfold in Lahaina, few people on island are aware of Coulombe’s crop-diversified, sustainable O’o Farm. Offering meals prepared on-site by the farm chef along with daily farm tours at 3,500 feet above sea level, O’o Farm’s 8.5 acres are situated on pristine Kula land, sustainably maintained and naturally cultivated with a no-till approach. In 2000, surfing buddies turned successful restaurateurs, Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert purchased the upcountry land that had only a citrus orchard and a few coffee trees. Today, O’o Farm includes Hawaiian coffee and fruit trees, rows of lettuce and garden vegetables, and green houses with flavorful tomatoes, herbs, flowers, a gift shop, and more.
“To grow locally on an island is one of the most sustainable things you can do,” said Coulombe. “If you operate a restaurant and can recycle food waste in the farm compost—even better. If you can follow crop diversification and organic methods—even better. If you can share what you do with the community and visitors, I think it contributes to the sustainable front.”
During the covid pandemic, and recently the Maui wildfires, community members picked up boxes of produce from the farm. O’o Farm supplies Maui Food Bank, and numerous restaurants and chefs around the island. O’o Farm Chef and Farm Manager Daniel Eskelsen said,“It’s my joy to be able to pass along the fruits of our labor. We like to share our farming methods with our guests and explain how we grow, harvest, and roast coffee at the highest elevation in the state. Our guests also learn about how our free-range farm chickens help us remove invasive grass and fertilize along drip lines in the trees.”
Mainland tour and lunch participants Grant and Pat Lucas from Texas shared their O’o Farm experience. “The amount of knowledge and our freshest seed-to-cup and farm-to-table meal was unmatched. With the bi-coastal views and quiet charm of farm life, this was a priceless experience. We’ll be back!”
Here at O’o Farm and Pacific’o, students may apply for internships receiving full college credits. Volunteers who want to learn about sustainable farming should also contact us.
Daniel Eskelsen, O’o Farm Chef and Farm Manager
A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Common Ground Collective (CGC) strives to transform Maui into a bountiful and productive island that benefits both the environment and the people who live here, in extraordinary ways. Their administrative staff is a passionate group of individuals with experience in sustainable sciences, business management, research, agriculture, politics, law and the hospitality industry. They employ mobile farmers with skills such as regenerative farming practices, to transform unproductive land into blossoming farms throughout the community. CGC promotes food security, economic opportunities, educational opportunities including student internships, and sustainability through hands-on assistance and incentives. Recently, they have also turned their attention to relief efforts to those affected by the Maui fires.
“The wildfires have taken a great toll on our community and the community food security needs immediately surged,” said CGC Founding Executive Director, Jennifer Karaca. “On August 9th, after the Salvation Army’s (the state-contracted food provider during times of emergency) kitchen had burned down, CGC was contacted by Maui United Way to step in. We immediately acquired the kitchen at University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC), coordinated the UHMC staff, various government agencies, the Chef Hui, and the World Central Kitchen (WCK) in order to begin providing meals for those in shelters, at various community hubs, and in the residence facilities not offering food. We have been working to incorporate products from local producers as much as possible to help offset the economic fallout of this disaster.”
While coordinating 8,000-10,000 meals a day for those in need, the CGC maintains its existing programs to promote food security island-wide. Karaca explained, “We will continue to procure local produce, proteins, and other added-value products needed for both UHMC and WCK, in addition to bulk food items for the community distribution hubs who are wanting to cook for themselves. Our organization strives to teach community members, volunteers, and students how to grow food, and provides essential knowledge and hands-on training for the efficient management of properties, while creating and nurturing connections with our many partners within the community. Bottom line, it’s about working together and helping each other.”
As we promote food security, education and economic opportunities on Maui, we also hope to set up a framework to bring this model of service to other areas in Hawaii and abroad.
Jennifer Karaca, CGC Founding Executive Director
If you are a community member or a fire victim with a disability, Kelea Foundation is available to provide support. “We are here for you,” said Kelea founder Jenn Gladwin. “Kelea is a Maui-based non-profit, working with the County of Maui and numerous organizations dedicated to distributing durable medical equipment to those who need assistance. We work towards equity and advocate especially for marginalized communities to get access to the same things as the well-resourced community. Kelea creates programs and events that promote self-determination and strength in individuals, including sports programs for all ages.”
A lifeguard with medical training, Gladwin worked alongside emergency teams, starting Day One of the recent Maui fires to help identify people with disabilities and those with complex medical cases. “I immediately saw the need to advocate for those with special needs and to connect them to vital services and extended medical care,” she explained. “My team and I realized quickly that we would need to replace large quantities of durable medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers, shower chairs, and more. We jumped into action and started sourcing these items from our community and then beyond. We have put together a statewide ‘disability hui’ of organizations and agencies who are working together to ensure Maui’s most vulnerable do not fall through the cracks.”
Kelea has been fortunate to acquire, through donations, many pieces of durable equipment, and have already served more than 150 people affected by the Maui fires. “Now, we are raising funds to open an accessible community resilience hub in central Maui,” Gladwin shared. “This location will serve as a storage and distribution center for medical equipment and related items. Additionally, it will provide a working space for social workers and specialists with whom we are in partnership to meet with clients in a safe, comfortable and accessible space. Our hub will be a community center for us to gather, plan, collaborate and heal as we move forward into extended assistance for our community. For me, the biggest priority is for the community to know that our services exist. Call if needed.” For more information or assistance, email TheKeleaFoundation@gmail.com, or call 808-344-2345.
Kelea Foundation was a recent recipient of a check from 100 Women Who Care. We hope to use the money for added community programs in our new location.
Jenn Gladwin, Founder, Kelea Foundation