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Learn About Hawaiian Culture And Make A Difference

Volunteering on Vacation Program helps visitors get off the beaten path in Maui

eTN Staff Writer  Mar 15, 2010

MAALAEA, MAUI, HI - During 2009, visitors to Maui gave the island a special gift - nearly 4,000 hours working on projects that benefited Maui's unique environment through a program called "Volunteering on Vacation." More than 1,000 volunteers participated in this free program, which is offered by Pacific Whale Foundation with support from an award by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Now entering its fourth year, Volunteering on Vacation is Maui's own unique approach to voluntourism. Through Volunteering on Vacation, visitors are matched with volunteer projects that allow them to spend a few hours off the beaten path, to visit remote areas that are often not visited by tourists, to learn about Hawaiian culture and wildlife - and to make a difference on behalf of the environment.

Participating in Volunteering on Vacation is free, and all who volunteer for three hours or more receive a free "Volunteering on Vacation - Maui" tote bag. Pacific Whale Foundation provides funding, staff time, and resources to support the program.


Visitors can peruse a calendar of weekly group activities, such as clearing invasive weeds in Haleakala National Park or restoring native plantings in the beautiful and private Honokowai Valley. Volunteers meet local experts on Maui's environment, connect with other like-minded people, and learn about the area's past and its place in Hawaiian culture. Volunteers who participate in one of the Volunteering on Vacation service trips to Haleakala receive free transportation from Maalaea or Pukalani and free admission to Haleakala National Park.


If the group events don’t fit a visitor's schedule, he or she can pick up a kit to undertake a solo project. For example, the “Beach Clean-up” kit includes an informational packet, directions to a local beach, rubber gloves, Volunteering on Vacation trash bags, a marine debris tally sheet and guide, and instructions on disposing of litter gathered. This has proven to be an especially popular activity with families with children of all ages.

For the other projects, families with children age 10 and over are invited to pitch in. You don't have to be a visitor to participate.

“Through Volunteering on Vacation, you can contribute in a meaningful way for just a few hours,” said Ashley Justice, outreach and events coordinator at the Pacific Whale Foundation. "For many, it becomes the most pleasantly memorable part of their vacation."


Pacific Whale Foundation began the program by contacting local agencies and nonprofit groups to learn which ones needed volunteer assistance. The organization compiled a monthly calendar of volunteer opportunities and developed a reservations system that would allow visitors to call a central phone number, learn about the volunteer opportunities, and sign up for one or more of the activities. Ads in visitor magazines and a rack card help visitors learn about the program.

"As a traveler, I've often thought that I'd like to volunteer to 'give back' to the place I'm visiting, but it's been challenging to find outlets to do so," said Justice. "We make it easy for visitors to Maui; they simply call our one number to set up their voluntourism adventure."

“Volunteering offers many people opportunities to connect with the environment and expand their awareness of environmental issues in very dynamic and personal ways,” said Pacific Whale Foundation conservation director Brooke Porter. “We’re so inundated now with information about environmental problems that it’s easy to feel helpless or overwhelmed. Programs like these give people a chance to get involved, to do something fun and memorable, and to be reminded that it is possible for people to make a big difference through individual actions.”


Pacific Whale Foundation has also found that groups from conventions and meetings are showing increased interest in Volunteering on Vacation. "We can accommodate large groups, provided we have some advance notice," said Justice. "When a group takes time from their meeting or convention to participate in this program, it sends a great message about their interest in protecting the environment."

The Volunteering on Vacation program will be available on an ongoing basis throughout 2010. To read more about Volunteering on Vacation, visit:
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Volunteering on Vacation Program helps visitors get off the beaten path in Maui
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