Hawaiʻi Fellows Champion Change in Their Communities


Lead For Hawaiʻi’s fellowship program recruiting for its 2022 cohort

By Carolyn Lucas-Zenk

Young leaders from Hawaiʻi Island, part of the inaugural cohort of Lead For Hawaiʻi (LFHI), are proving that we have the power to shape our future.

LFHI is a Hawaiʻi-based affiliate of Lead For America, a national service program committed to building the next generation of leaders. Lead For Hawaiʻi participants serve in a full-time paid AmeriCorps fellowship alongside a local leader in their community for one year before advancing into positions of community, state or national leadership.

“We believe young leaders born and raised in our local communities are best equipped to solve Hawaiʻi’s unique challenges,” said Alexis Ching, LFHI co-director and Lead For America senior community partnerships manager.

“Lead For Hawaiʻi recruits, trains and retains our most dynamic and innovative homegrown talent to solve old problems in new ways. In collaboration with government, nonprofits and private sector partners, our fellows create sustainable solutions informed by and aligned with Hawaiʻi’s unique culture, heritage and history. Through our work, Lead For Hawaiʻi seeks to change the narrative that says success requires leaving Hawaiʻi.”

Since LFHI began last summer, fellows have been tackling some of Hawaiʻi Island’s most pressing challenges, such as cultural and natural resource management, resiliency and disaster recovery, and sustainable land planning.

Photo: Kevin “Paka” Pakamiaiaea Davis
Lead For Hawaiʻi fellow Kevin “Paka” Pakamiaiaea Davis (left) works on a project with Hawaiʻi County planners. – Photos: Courtesy

Kevin “Paka” Pakamiaiaea Davis, part of the first cohort, had just completed a master’s degree from Southern Methodist prior to becoming a fellow.

“The reason I pursued my master’s degree in sustainability and development was to be able to come home and contribute to creating a more sustainable future for our island, but there were no clear opportunities to bring my experiences back to Hawaiʻi,” he said. “Lead for Hawaiʻi presented the perfect opportunity for me to come home and continue learning while applying knowledge gained during my undergraduate and graduate studies.”

Today, Davis is one of two Community Impact Planner fellows working under Hawaiʻi County Planning Director Zendo Kern. In this role, he is focused on the County of Hawaiʻi General Plan update, land use research, and long-range planning.

Photo: Kuʻunahenani Keakealani
Kuʻunahenani Keakealani is a lineal descendant working on the Puʻuwaʻawaʻa Community Based Subsistence Forest Area project. She has learned fence installation and management, transplanting of native plant species, and ungulate management and data collection.

For Kuʻunahenani Keakealani the fellowship program was an opportunity to work on her ʻāina hānau while earning a paycheck. It also gave her the opportunity to work alongside people with years of conservation experience.

Keakealani is working on the Puʻuwaʻawaʻa Community Based Subsistence Forest Area (PCBSFA) project, the first community-based subsistence forest area in the state. It’s a partnership between the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests (AFTF), the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and lineal descendants. She works alongside mentors Nehu Shaw, Dr. Katie Kamelamela, and Kainana Francisco, learning conservation techniques and strategies, methods of fieldwork, data management, and native forest restoration planning.

“Working at Puʻuwaʻawaʻa is something I hold special to my heart because it is the land my grandfather has worked for generations. This is more about family tradition and continuation and certainly about the love we have for our ʻāina and forests of nā puʻu. This fellowship gave me the opportunity to work with AFTF and the PCBSFA directly. I have learned so much.”

Lead for Hawaiʻi hopes the fellows’ work inspires others to join the next cohort of emerging leaders.

Recruitment for the 2022 LFHI cohort is currently underway and the application deadline is April 15. In addition to serving in a paid, full-time role with a local nonprofit or government entity to address a critical community challenge, fellows will take part in a premier training program at Lead For America’s Summer Institute in Washington, D.C. The year-long fellowship is a launching pad for a lifetime of leadership and community service.

For more information or to apply go to www.leadforamerica.org or email alexis.ching@leadforamerica.org.