2020 Bright Spots & Looking Forward in 2021: Nature Activities for Learning and Understanding (NALU) Studies Program

2020 certainly presented the most complex and difficult personal and professional challenges many of us have ever faced. At the same time, out of 2020 came stories of resilience, neighbors helping neighbors, and people and organizations stepping up and coming together like never before.

As we approach the one-year mark of the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Hawaii, we wanted to look back at uplifting moments from the past year and check in to see what our grantees are hoping for in 2021.

Over the next few posts, we’ll share some of our grantees’ 2020 bright spots as well as what they are looking forward to this year.


NALU Studies


What was one bright spot for your organization in 2020?

The year 2020 was a challenging year for every person on earth in so many ways. A viral global pandemic that did not care about sociology-economic status, politics, race, ethnicity, or education showed us all how fragile life could be, especially in Hawaii. Through it all, the NALU Studies program worked to execute its mission of supporting Hawaii’s at-risk youth in challenging situations.

This is why we began reaching out to former NALU Studies graduates and former students from other programs we have worked with over the last 17 years such as the Pacific Center for Environmental Studies (PaCES) graduates, HYCC graduates, and others. What we discovered was amazing. Our local Hawaii students, many of whom we had not heard from in over 16 years, and a number of whom are now living in different parts of the U.S. working in a number of professional fields or still in college, agreed to step up and join this NALU team supporting Hawaii at-risk youth who were in danger of failing out of school through tutoring. Each NALU graduate agreed to give at least one hour of their time each week and tutor a student in need to help them understand a concept they needed to know. We selected students struggling in classes required to graduate. It was incredible to reconnect with our former NALU and PaCES students as they worked to tutor our struggling students and it really makes you believe in the power of humanity and compassion. Within each of us lies the power to make the world a better place. This was a very bright spot for us in 2020.


What is one thing you are looking forward to or hoping to accomplish as an organization in 2021?

The NALU Studies program provides new and unique ways to serve our students who struggle in the classroom through hands-on, experiential education activities in science and cultural practices in partnership with caring mentors. After 2020, the 2021 year represents a “new normal” for billions of people who are learning about science, viruses, and vaccines as we strive to recover from this global pandemic.

Many of our Hawaii students are desperate to reconnect to the ocean and land and they have actually approached us pleading for the opportunity to connect with some of the unique cultural sites in Hawaii that the NALU Studies program provides. We are excited to have students enroll in NALU to build relationships with our scientists and cultural practitioner mentors who provide NALU students with job skills training, leadership skills training, and a connection to culture and place as they receive the high school credits they need to graduate, and college credits helping them with career direction.

Each day I am humbled by their stories of resiliency! I firmly believe that our future is in good hands! Our sincere hope for this upcoming 2021 year is that we are able to reconnect many of our local Hawaii at-risk youth with the aina, or land and kai, or sea, and empower them to understand that they have the power to overcome the personal challenges in their lives, they have support and can work to improve their situations, and they will emerge as our future leaders who take action to support Hawaii!

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