Nonprofit earns national accreditation

Mayor Kirk Caldwell (left) and Kupu executive director John Leong (right) with Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who recently dropped by for a visit with Kupu

Mayor Kirk Caldwell (left) and Kupu executive director John Leong (right) with Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who recently dropped by for a visit with Kupu

Kakaako-based environmental nonprofit Kupu announced last month that its Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC) has earned accreditation from The Corps Center of Excellence (CCE), making it the only corps program in Hawaii to earn such a distinction.

Kupu offers experiential training and service learning for green jobs — spanning fields that include natural resource management, sustainability and agriculture — for young adults ages 16-24.

HYCC focuses on conservation, land restoration and cultural issues — and is just one of Kupu’s programs, which also include educational and career support for at-risk youths, internships for aspiring green professionals and hands-on environmental education.

Within HYCC alone, Kupu works with about 200 youths per year.

“Our HYCC programs are really doing great,” says Kupu executive director John Leong. “We were very excited. It’s really great for both Kupu and those who we serve — and also the state as a whole.”

With a national accreditation, Leong explains, it proves that Kupu’s work is on par with other, larger organizations. And while there are more than 100 youth corps across the country, only a handful of them have earned this CCE accreditation.


From a financial standpoint, Kupu also hopes that the distinction will help it earn additional funding in the future, possibly increasing its chances of receiving federal grants.

“That would allow us to grow our programs,” Leong explains. “And it also builds confidence within our own operation because we know we are doing a good job and we can really stand at that same level as other organizations across the country.”

HYCC participants have the chance to work alongside environmental organizations and state agencies to complete hands-on fieldwork. The program is comprised of a series of sub-programs that include summer service learning, as well as extended internships designed to give participants an intensive crash course in conservation-focused careers. Currently, the HYCC summer session is underway — with 18 teams across the state working on conservation projects that impact about 80 different organizations.

HYCC participants in the field

HYCC participants in the field

In other Kupu news, its CommunityU program for at-risk youths just graduated a group of students from its high school diploma equivalency course.

“These young adults had come from some of the most challenging backgrounds,” Leong says. “It’s been really exciting to see the life change that this signifies for them.”

Since launching in 2007, Kupu has seen numerous success stories — like Caterine Picardo, who recently was named Kupu’s alumni of the year. Picardo had a fellowship with Kupu from March 2014 through February 2015, where she partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle clean transportation issues. Now she’s a planner with the city’s Transit Oriented Development Program in the Department of Planning and Permitting. Picardo was recognized at Kupu’s annual Awards Luncheon last month.

“It’s so great to see our alumni succeed — not just within Kupu, but afterward,” Leong says.

The ceremony was followed up with an Environmental Fair. The purpose of the fair, Leong explains, is to “give our members (an idea) of what could occur after the summer, that this is not just a one-time summer opportunity, but that there are other opportunities out there.”

For more information on Kupu, visit