23 Volunteer Ideas in Hawai‘i

Here’s our guide to giving back, from removing invasive species to decorating theater sets.

This story originally appeared online Dec. 2, 2014. 

Little brother Matt plays a game with his big brother.
Photo: Mark Lee


After the ball drops at midnight  on New Year’s Eve, many of us vow to eat healthier, exercise more, make time to be better people. By February we’ve slipped back into old habits, leaving those resolutions behind.

We can do better this year. While it’s still the season of giving, let’s start thinking about 2015 and how we can contribute our talents to the community. Every nonprofit appreciates donations, but volunteering time is priceless. From a one-time beach cleanup to a year of mentoring a child, we’ve compiled a range of opportunities that we hope will encourage you to reach out and help others. We’ve also rated each opportunity based on how much of a commitment it takes, so you can choose to either dip in your toes or make a big splash. Often, it’s the ripple effect that makes a world of difference. Here are some ideas to get started.



* Minimal Commitment

* * Low Commitment

* * * Medium Commitment

* * * * High Commitment

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SEE ALSO: Field Notes: Meet the Volunteers Who Remove Invasive Algae From Maunalua Bay


The Outdoors

From mauka to makai, Hawai‘i’s rich environment appeals to volunteers of all ages and capabilities. From living and working on a farm to teaching people to surf, here are ways you can get outside and mālama ‘āina. Most organizations require that you be at least 18 years old and physically capable of some manual labor.


The Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club

Photo: Courtesy The Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club

Maintain Hawai‘i’s hiking trails with HTMC while improving conditions for all hikers. Tie ribbons, chop down branches, reduce hazards and promote native plant growth. Volunteers are asked to be club members—you must go on three hikes within a year and pay dues to join, but you can start with just one or two hikes if you want to get right to trail maintenance, and they will be counted toward your membership quota. There is no minimum number of trails you have to help with, and there are volunteer opportunities almost weekly. htmclub.org

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WWOOF Hawai‘i

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. If you’re serious about gaining farming experience, helping a worthy cause or trying something new, sign up as a WWOOFer on wwoofhawaii.org for $25. You can apply to work on specific farms. In return, hosts provide accommodations and meals. You’re expected to live and work on the farm anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, though many farms also accept volunteers by the day. This can be an intense but rewarding experience. wwoofhawaii.org

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Hawai‘i State Parks

A range of groups and organizations have official curator agreements to maintain state parks, and most are looking for more volunteers. Many state parks, such as Ulupō Heiau State Historical Park, are significant Hawaiian landmarks, so, in preserving the ‘āina, you’re also perpetuating the culture. hawaiistateparks.org/partners




Photo: Courtesy AccesSurf

This Hawai‘i nonprofit helps people with disabilities swim or surf in a safe environment. Skilled watermen and -women  can get hands-on with water safety and assisted surfing. Volunteers of all capabilities are welcome at AccesSurf’s Day at the Beach programs, where you can help in or out of the water. Orientation is at 8 a.m. at White Plains Beach Park in Kalaeloa the first Saturday of each month. accessurf.org



Waikīkī Aquarium

Help the UH botany department remove invasive algae from the Waikīkī coastline and reef systems to promote native species’ growth. Divers remove the alien species from the sea floor, and then the algae are transported to the Honolulu Zoo, where they’re used as fertilizer. Volunteers can help by snorkeling above the divers, transporting sacks of algae back to shore, sorting native limu, removing algae from shallower areas and more. Bring a towel, sunblock, hat, water, gloves, goggles, reef shoes, snorkels and fins, depending on how you’d like to help. Check the calendar at waikikiaquarium.org/visit/calendar for the next cleanup, or contact the volunteer office at 440-9020 or volunteer@waquarium.org. waikikiaquarium.org





Sometimes you’d rather be around animals than people (especially after the holidays). Whether you’re working with animals directly or from a distance, keep in mind that they can be unpredictable.


Mālama Nā Honu

Become a honu guardian at Laniākea Beach, where you will set up ropes around basking turtles and educate visitors about them. Volunteers must be 18 or older and sign up for at least two three-hour shifts a month, starting with a training session and two shadow shifts. malamanahonu.org/volunteer.asp



The Monk Seal Foundation

Photo: Odeelo Dayondon

Get one look at a monk seal’s face and just try not to smile. You can’t pet the lovable creatures, but you can do one better and help protect them. Click here to read our recent story on monk seal volunteers. monksealfoundation.org/oahuvolunteering.aspx



The O‘ahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Volunteering for the SPCA is great, but you can play an even bigger part by fostering animals until they are adopted. Shelters are often overcrowded, so temporarily fostering an animal will not only make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside (and out!), it’ll help free kennel space for newly rescued critters. Some animals may only need a few days; others may be with you for months, so prepare to provide proper care as well as medical treatment. Foster parents must be 21 or older and have their landlord’s permission. oahuspca.com/foster

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Honolulu Zoo Society

Come to a “Walk-in-Wednesday” to meet the zoo’s volunteer director and discuss the many opportunities at Honolulu Zoo. You’ll have to fill out a few forms, submit your TB clearance, get a background check, buy a $20 volunteer shirt and, if you want to work in the mammal section, attend an Animal Emergency Training workshop. There is a minimum time commitment of one shift per week for six months, each shift running three or four hours. Assistance is needed for the Keiki Zoo, education programs, the docent program, events and other sections. Depending on the section, volunteers under 18 may be welcome. honoluluzoo.org/volunteer.html

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“When considering to volunteer or donate to a nonprofit, people should first think about their passion for giving back, then look at organizations that are clear about their mission and can show the difference they are making in the community,” says Kelvin Taketa, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. Also, think about your interests and skills. To find other opportunities not mentioned here, click here.



Work With People

Whether you like spending time with children, the elderly or anyone in between, your kōkua is invaluable. Depending on what you’ll be doing, you may need medical clearances, and you’ll always need a positive attitude.


Big Brothers Big Sisters

Volunteers become role models for children and spend time taking them out, mentoring them and forming a bond that will help them grow. You’ll be responsible for driving your Little around, so a relatively clean driving record is a must. You’ll also need to pay for wherever you go, such as the movies or lunch. Volunteers are asked to make a one-year commitment and meet with their Littles twice a month for two to four hours at a time. Mentors must be at least 18 to work with keiki ages 6 through 16. bbbshawaii.org

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The Internal Revenue Service

Become a certified tax volunteer to help people file simple federal and state returns. Training takes place between November and January. Volunteers are asked to commit to as little as three to four hours per week from February through April. Find out more at aarp.org/taxvolunteer, hawaiitaxhelp.org and legalaidhawaii.org. irs.gov

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Lunalilo Home

Founded by King William Charles Lunalilo in 1883, the original Lunalilo Home in Kewalo was open to Hawaiians who were poor, destitute or infirm. Today, the relocated home in Hawai‘i Kai provides compassionate care for all kūpuna. Volunteers are welcome to spend time with residents, share a talent, assist with crafts, play games or help out in the office. lunalilo.org/giving/volunteer



The Institute for Human Services

An Institute for Human Services worker checks on the agency’s Rooftop Training and Education Center, which produces 50-75 pounds of vegetables every one to two weeks to keep food costs down, provide healthier meal options and provide urban agriculture training for IHS guests.
Photo: Jeptha Eddy, Jr.

Assist the homeless by serving meals, maintaining the shelter, teaching résumé writing and other skills. You must fill out an application, attend an orientation, commit to three months of volunteering and submit a TB test or chest X-ray to work in the meal program. ihshawaii.org/volunteer/individual

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YWCA of O‘ahu

Photo: Courtesy YWCA

YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism and empower women through housing, economic self-sufficiency, professional development, and health and wellness. Volunteer opportunities exist in each of these areas, from sorting donated clothing to teaching women basic computer skills. You can even coach swimming or help build shelves for classrooms. ywcaoahu.org/volunteer



Theater & the Arts

Theaters and museums abound on O‘ahu, so check with your favorites to find what they specifically need. Here are some examples to get you started. Prior experience and knowledge are not always necessary.


The Hawai‘i State Art Museum

Welcome guests to the museum or assist with special events, such as First Friday. It’s an art lover’s dream to work in that gorgeous building. High school-age volunteers are welcome with their parents’ permission. For details, email hisamvolunteers@gmail.com or call 586-9959. sfca.hawaii.gov/hisam/volunteers



Mānoa Valley Theatre

If you love acting, painting or sewing, MVT has something for you. Everything from lighting to props to ushering is done by volunteers and, in return, you’ll get to see a show for free (and maybe even become a famous actor!). Volunteers must be available throughout the performance dates. manoavalleytheatre.com/volunteer_program.html

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The Hawai‘i International Film Festival

Enter the exciting world of locally and internationally produced films. Twice a year, in late October/early November and during the spring showcase, HIFF relies on a network of volunteers to distribute program guides, direct filmgoers to the proper lines and theaters, take tickets and help keep theaters clean. When you attend orientation and commit to a minimum of three five-hour shifts, you’ll receive a volunteer shirt and get one movie pass for each shift you work. Plus, if it’s a slow time, you can often sit in on panels or films for free. hiff.org/about-hiff/volunteer

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Hawai‘i Opera Theatre

Photo: COry lum

While behind-the-scenes volunteers are needed for HOT productions, an unexpected way to lend your talents is onstage. You must pass an audition to join the HOT Chorus, and if you can act but can’t sing, try out for a non-singing role as a supernumerary. Commitment varies depending on your role. Contact Beth Crumrine at 596-7372 ext. 214 or productioncoordinator@hawaiiopera.org. hawaiiopera.org/support-us/volunteer

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Hawaiian Culture & History

Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture, from the environment to history. You’ll learn while you help perpetuate diverse causes.


Ka Papa Lo‘i O Kānewai

Nothing says community service in Hawai‘i quite like getting knee-deep in a lo‘i kalo. The Kānewai lo‘i at UH Mānoa hosts workdays every first Saturday of the month in which volunteers not only help with farming but also interact with Hawaiian-language speakers and kūpuna. Minors who wish to participate must sign a waiver. manoa.hawaii.edu/hshk/ka-papa-loi-o-kanewai/volunteer-at-kanewai



Hawaiian Mission Houses

Volunteers can help as curatorial, archival and gift shop assistants, tour guides and more for the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives. Administrative assistants and docents are needed, in particular. High school and college students interested in museum studies and anthropology are welcome as interns. missionhouses.org

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Paepae o He‘eia

Photo: Courtesy Paepae o He‘eia

Get outside to preserve and restore one of Hawai‘i’s ancient fishponds, which has been around for 800 years. Two Saturdays a month are designated community workdays when volunteers remove invasive species, reconstruct the kuapā and perform other tasks. Volunteers under 12 must come with an adult. Wear covered shoes, clothing that can get dirty, sunscreen and a hat, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water. RSVPs are required. Every Friday is also a workday for more intense projects. paepaeoheeia.org/volunteer



‘Iolani Palace

You don’t have to go through prolonged docent training to volunteer at ‘Iolani Palace. Other opportunities include welcoming guests, general assistance, helping in the gift shop and clerical assistance. It’s a good starting point if you hope to become a docent in the future, which requires taking courses. Volunteers must commit to at least four hours a week for three to six months and attend an orientation. iolanipalace.com/contact/volunteer.aspx

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808 Urban

Hawaiian community artists and organizers mentor at-risk youth in low-income neighborhoods through street-art workshops. Volunteers help with 808 Urban events, such as Honolulu Night Market, while interns are needed for general assistance with daily operations. 808urban.org/contact/internship-information

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Looking for more volunteer ideas? Click here.