Leilani Chow was born and raised on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. One of seven children, Chow knows how important the sustainability and resiliency of the island is to its 7,500 residents, most of whom are Native Hawaiian.
At 16, she got involved with Sustʻāinable Molokai, which “seeks to restore Molokai to the food- and energy-secure island of the past by supporting local agricultural and renewable energy resources from the island.” The organization is a longtime grantee of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and participates in First Nations’ NativeGiving.org project that is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
Hui Up is an effort that conducts energy audits aimed at the 3,500 homes on Molokai that have some of the highest electricity rates in the U.S.
“I thought it was pretty cool. I was really happy to help people save on electric bills at home. It’s necessary and it has helped a lot of people. When I started it was the first year – we did the applications by hand. Now it’s easier to get the audits done, we have an online application. The first year we updated 100 refrigerators. This year we did 207, and we have a waiting list of over 100 people,” said Chow.
Now 24 and a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii, Chow trains Molokai youth to conduct energy audits.
“There’s a team of six with two to a team, and we have youth volunteers. My team was made up of middle schoolers and they did a great job. I was so proud of them,” said Chow.
Chow is expressive about how important the island and the work of Sustʻāinable Molokai is to her. It’s one of the main reasons she returned home the summer of 2017 after graduation.
“I want to go back home and have a more permanent position and do more projects with Sustʻāinable Molokai. I want to help build my community,” said Chow.
Chow’s passion and commitment to Sustʻāinable Molokai and her community lead her to be one of the 54 attendees, representing Native nonprofits and tribal programs from across the country, at the Power of We – Fundraising, Sustainability and Telling Our Stories training event held by First Nations in September 2017. The informative and engaging training focused on sustainability, and provided the attendees an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of fundraising best practices and communicating the impact in a peer-learning environment.
Two speakers who especially impacted Chow were Regis Pecos (Cochiti Pueblo), Co-Director of the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS), and Diane Reyna (Taos Pueblo), a Consultant with the Leadership Institute at SFIS. Chow connected with how they develop curriculum and that the students get to determine the rules.
Emillia Noordhoek is the Co-Executive Director and the Director of Renewable Resources of Sustʻāinable Molokai, and has known Chow for the past 12 years. She sees the importance and the need to create a place for the youth to come back to for the sustainability and resiliency of the island.
“We work hard to keep the youth engaged so they can come back after college, but they can’t earn as much as they would on the mainland or in Honolulu if we didn’t have stipends. So part of our leadership program, as we’re reimagining it, is that someone can work on a project, go back to college or other training, and be able to return to Molokai and pick up the project where they left off,” said Noordhoek.
Building their capacity to create positions for Chow and the youth of Molokai is a key effort of Sustʻāinable Molokai and Noordhoek. Attending the Power of We training gave Chow and the other attendees an opportunity to see what other Native communities are doing, to learn from other emerging and accomplished, committed community leaders.
“I had no idea what to expect as this was my first Power of We conference that I’ve been to. I was blown away with the speakers as they were so amazing. It was well-planned and fun. I learned a lot. I had never thought about fundraising in those ways – it’s an area that we need to look at,” said Chow.
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer