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Recovery Stories


Building Community

Back-to-back Recovery SpeakOuts held in Pāhoa
Post Date:10/10/2019 9:00 AM

SpeakOut events held Oct. 4-5 at Pāhoa High School focused on building community resilience following the 2018 Kīlauea eruption. About 150 residents participated.

Hawai‘i County’s recovery team held the events, which included a student panel representing three high schools in Puna, as part of Phase III of eruption recovery – identifying strategies and actions.

“We’re grateful for all the community voices that contributed, especially the three teens who participated in our student panel Friday night,” said Diane Ley, County Research and Development director. “Resilient recovery is about ‘bouncing forward,’ not just ‘bouncing back,’ and these exercises will help the county and community make Puna stronger together.” 

During the SpeakOut sessions, residents were invited to share their needs and contribute to mitigation strategies. At its core, that process is about building community by connecting people to each other and this place, noted Bob Agres, recovery engagement manager.

The feedback from these events will help the County shape recovery scenarios as part of a Recovery Strategic Plan anticipated to be drafted around the end of the year. 

Community SpeakOut

During the Oct. 5 Community SpeakOut, participants could ask County officials questions, including during a forum held every hour, and discuss community-based tourism and traditional land use. 

Interactive displays were provided to explore the risks from volcanic hazards and potential mitigation programs as well as building community resilience. 

With the latter, participants were presented with different categories of community capital: 

  • Human capital – investment in individual capacity (skills, knowledge, volunteer time);
  • Social capital – investment in community outreach (relationship networks);
  • Financial capital – investment in wealth and income (credit, securities, investment opportunities);
  • Built capital – investment in infrastructure and utilities (roads, water lines, telecommunication);
  • Natural and cultural capital – connection to place: past and future (investment in a shared worldview, traditions and land);
  • Political capital – connection to power and voice (investment in leaders and influence).

Based on their experience, participants were asked to identify categories that are most vulnerable to natural disasters, strongest against natural disasters, and which two they would like to invest so that they can grow community assets and build resiliency.

“We wanted the community to put their ‘money where their na‘au is,’” Agres said, “while also recognizing what categories are most vulnerable so that they understand the tradeoffs.”

Adult participants identified built capital as their top priority and the most at-risk from disasters. Other top priorities were social and natural/cultural capital.

Youth participants prioritized natural/cultural capital most followed by social and built capital.


Speakout Story photo



Caption: Heather Long with the Institute for Sustainable Development talks with residents at the Oct. 5 Community SpeakOut at Pāhoa High School.

Youth SpeakOut

The Oct. 4 Youth SpeakOut featured a student panel representing three high schools: Kua O Ka Lā Public Charter School (Nino Pelton), Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences (Katina Gronowski), and Kamehameha Schools (Travis Chai-Andrade). Each high school in Puna was invited to participate.

The panel was moderated by Keinan Agonias, a Pāhoa High School graduate. Mayor Harry Kim, Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz and Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy joined the panel to listen to the youth and share their response.

The students were asked to explain what being “Puna and Hawai‘i Island Strong” means to them, as well as additional questions from the elected officials.

The students defined Puna Strong and Hawai‘i Island Strong as the community helping each other. 

Chai-Andrade, 18, drew from his experience as a canoe paddler.

“To me, Puna strong means being able to work together and move forward as one,” he said.

“… Because every practice you get into the canoe and then your coach comes sits in the ama, and they tell you to hit together, reach together, paddle together.

“… So events like this, where people can come together and share what they are thinking and try to understand where other people are coming from, are good because it helps us to be all on the same page so that way we can really paddle forward as one and move forward as a community.”

Nino Pelton, 16, reflected on his experience as a student at Kua O Ka Lā, which was destroyed by the lava flow. He said he experienced “Puna Strong” during that time. The school is currently using multiple locations as it pursues a new permanent facility.  

When asked about their generation’s greatest challenge, Nino said it’s being heard. 

“Kids keep their problems to themselves … We can address this problem by students having a place they can go and feel safe,” Nino said.

In response to a question about how he would spend $100,000, Nino answered: “I would give it to the school so we can build a campus.” 

Gronowski, 18, noted Puna is filled with “such love and compassion, and we all come together to make something very strong.” She said giving is instilled in her school.

“Although giving is not something we can touch or to have to hold, but it’s something we keep in our hearts,” she said. “… We choose to give; we choose to be part of the whole. I believe community service is something we need more of. In natural disasters, we all come together as a whole but we need more of that when things are good, too.”


Students story

Caption: Katina Gronowski, a senior at Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science, speaks during the Oct. 4 Youth SpeakOut at Pāhoa High School.

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