What to Know Before You Volunteer in Hawaii
Located in the central Pacific Ocean, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands first settled Hawaii around 400 CE. During Hawaii’s early days, most folks lived in communities ruled by chieftains.
In 1778, Captain James Cook became the first European to visit the island. From the late 1700s to early 1800s, King Kamehameha became Hawaii’s first king, uniting the archipelago into one royal kingdom under his rule,
Throughout the 1800s, Western missionaries and traders flocked to the islands. American colonists slowly gained power by controlling the sugar-based economy. This eventually led to the overthrow of the kingdom and the imprisonment of Hawaii’s last ruling monarch, Queen Lili‘uokalani.
In 1898, the US annexed Hawaii as a territory. Eventually released and pardoned, the Queen died in 1917. She remains a hero to Hawaiians.
In 1941, a date that lives in infamy, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing more than 2,300 Americans. The attack drew America into World War II. The war resulted in the eventual Japanese surrender on U.S.S. Battleship Missouri, which you can still tour today.
In 1959, Hawaii officially became a US state. Despite the drastic changes Hawaii has undergone since the 1800s, the Aloha State has stayed true to its roots.
Hawaii, with their blend of time-honored traditions and ethnic influences, has a unique and diverse culture today. You can discover the culture in the language, art, dance, music, and cuisine. When you watch a hula performance, listen to the stirring sounds of a mele, or have a feast at a luau, you’ll see that Hawaii is one special place. They honor their past, embrace what today brings, and build for tomorrow.
You can also learn a lot by talking with locals. People across the eight islands are welcoming and generous. You’ll feel the “Aloha Spirit” embodied in their expressions of kindness and warmth.
As you can see, Hawaii is the perfect destination for volunteer travel. You can learn, do good, and grow as a person when you volunteer in Hawaii.
Volunteer Opportunities in Hawaii
You can volunteer in Hawaii in many ways. From beach cleanups and wildlife monitoring to helping the elderly and working to end the homelessness crisis, volunteer opportunities in Hawaii abound. You can even volunteer to preserve volcanic environments.
Here, we cover the best volunteer programs in Hawaii. See what service projects attract you, sign up, and make your way to the Aloha State.
Do Ocean and Beach Cleanups in Hawaii
Want to protect Hawaii’s gorgeous coastlines and natural environment? You’d be doing a lot of good. Because the Aloha State can only sustain its way of life with healthy coastal ecosystems.
Considering the importance of the coastlines, lots of organizations engage in beach and ocean cleanups in Hawaii. Check out the two below.
This wonderful organization promotes and improves ocean health around West Maui by planting native plants, doing beach cleanups, and hosting educational events for the public. The group has done great work empowering local residents to preserve the environment.
For volunteer opportunities in Hawaii with West Maui Kumuwai, check their Facebook page and website.
A grassroots, local nonprofit organization, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii does everything from waste diversion to public awareness campaigns. They inspire communities to care for their environment through fun, hands-on beach cleanups. They also run educational programs and team-building corporate cleanups.
Started in 2010 by eight friends, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii has done great work to beautify the coastlines and inspire better consumer behavior. To volunteer in Hawaii with the organization, join one of their cleanup events. Most cleanups take place on Oahu.
Volunteer in Hawaii to Help Wildlife
Passionate about wildlife? Turn that passion into action by volunteering in Hawaii to protect local animals.
In fact, there may be no better place than Hawaii for wildlife volunteering. From the monk seals and sea turtles to the mongooses and hoary bats, the Aloha State has a plethora of amazing creatures. To volunteer in Hawaii for animals, consider the two great organizations below!
Hosted by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, this project strives to promote public awareness about North Pacific humpback whales, an endangered species. Each year, the group meets three times to tally humpback whale sightings and document their surface behavior. This requires the help of citizens and volunteers in Hawaii. That means you!
Dates for the Ocean Counts vary each year. Typically, the meetups are held on the last Saturday of January, February, and March (check in advance). You can register directly on Sanctuary Ocean Count’s website.
Established in 1877, the Honolulu Zoo emphasizes Pacific tropical island ecosystems and traditional values of ho’okipa (hospitality) and mālama (caring). The zoo focuses on improving conservation through research, education, and meaningful experiences for the community.
As a volunteer in Hawaii at the Honolulu Zoo, you can inspire the stewardship of our living world. You’ll support a beloved institution by assisting with conservation initiatives, educating visitors, helping with maintenance, and more. And you’ll get to work outdoors in a lush tropical environment.
To volunteer at the Honolulu Zoo, get started here. You’ll need to fill out an application form, pass a background check, and meet for an in-person interview. Note you must commit to 3-6 months of volunteering, with a minimum of one 2.5 hour shift each week.
Help End Homelessness in Hawaii
Homelessness has been a major issue in Hawaii, with more than 6,500 people experiencing homelessness per day in 2018. Despite a recent decline, Hawaii still has one of the highest homeless per capita rates in the nation.
If you want to volunteer in Hawaii and transform lives for those who need it most, volunteer with an organization that helps the homeless. As the University of Hawaii notes, there are lots of organizations doing great work. Read about two below!
The Institute for Human Services began as a peanut butter ministry in 1978, offering sandwiches and coffee to unsheltered individuals. Today, the nonprofit is a multi-service center, and they have an intent focus on ending the cycle of homelessness. The Institute for Human Services (IHS) provides food, shelter, and a variety of supportive services, such as healthcare, specialized case management, and children and family programs. They also offer employment assistance.
As a volunteer with IHS, you can help in a variety of ways. Volunteer positions include administrative support, kitchen help, employment assistance, after-school tutoring, and more. If you’re a medical professional or lawyer, you can volunteer in healthcare or legal services. To volunteer at IHS, click here!
Established in 1967, the Waikiki Health Center operates the Next Step Shelter in Honolulu. The facility offers vital services such as emergency shelter, job training, housing placement assistance, and medical care referrals.
The Next Step Shelter is always welcoming volunteers to assist with all sorts of tasks, such as preparing meals, renovating the facilities, and spending time with the older residents. Find out how you help here!
Volunteer in Hawaii to Preserve Volcanic Environments
As an article in National Geographic states, “without volcanoes, there would be no Hawaii. The eight primary islands that make up this archipelago owe their existence to a roiling spot of magma deep under the ocean floor known as the Hawaii hotspot.”
Volcanoes both destroy and create. Eruptions cause devastation, but the rich nutrients they release feed Hawaii’s magical ecosystem. That’s why it’s vital to protect volcanic environments. When you volunteer in Hawaii, you can make a difference here. See two places where you can volunteer below!
Protecting some of the most unique cultural, geological, and biological landscapes in the world, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses two of the planet’s most active volcanoes: Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. The park is located on the Big Island.
If you’re interested in volunteering in the park, you have several choices. Preserve the volcanic environment by restoring forests, removing invasive species, helping with research, educating visitors, and more. Some volunteer positions include:
- Youth and Volunteer Programs Assistant
- Volunteer Interpretive Guide
- Air Tour Monitoring Volunteer
- Landscape Maintenance Volunteer
- Environmental Education Assistant
So, do you want to volunteer at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park? Get started here!
Located on Maui, Haleakalā National Park is a rare and sacred place. The park provides visitors with an unforgettable hike through breezy bamboo forests, volcanic environments, and wild coastlines. As soon as you arrive, you’ll be swept off your feet.
Given the importance of Haleakalā National Park, volunteer opportunities abound. As a Volunteer in Parks (VIP), you’ll work alongside National Park Service staff, helping conserve the park and educate guests. Duties may include monitoring endangered bird populations, picking up litter, maintaining trails, and more. For more information on volunteering in Haleakalā National Park, click here!
Volunteer with Children in Hawaii
Children are our future. They’re the future engineers, doctors, teachers, and artists who will build a brighter tomorrow. So, if you want to improve the Aloha State’s future prospects, volunteer to help children.
When it comes to helping children, you’ll find an abundance of volunteer opportunities in Hawaii. For instance, you could volunteer at Shriners Hospital for Children in Honolulu and assist with patient care and support services. There’s simply nothing more moving than lifting the spirits of a sick child.
Interested in other volunteer opportunities in Hawaii with children? Read about two below!
Serving over 1,500 people each year, Parents and Children Together (PACT) aims to help Hawaii’s most vulnerable families. PACT has been providing social services since 1968. They operate across four Hawaii counties: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island. PACT has five areas of focus:
- Early childhood education
- Domestic violence prevention and intervention
- Child abuse and neglect prevention and treatment
- Behavioral health support
- Community building and economic development
You have several volunteer opportunities in Hawaii with PACT. For example, you could:
- Volunteer on Keiki Day: Hit the streets and raise funds for PACT. Keiki Day, which is a playday meant for kids, occurs on one special Saturday each month. PACT holds their Keiki Day Volunteer initiative each May.
- Volunteer at Family Centers: Support PACT’s mission by working at a family center that helps strengthen families through parenting support, community building, skills workshops, and more. The Family Centers also help immigrant and refugee families with legal services, English language learning, and network building.
Since 2006, Family Promise has assisted the most disadvantaged families in Hawaii. They’ve helped hundreds of families transition from homelessness into long-term housing.
If you want to help homeless children find stability, Family Promise has lots of volunteer opportunities in Hawaii. You must commit at least three months of your time. Responsibilities you can take on include preparing and delivering family dinners, playing with children at a daycare center, handling phone calls, and conducting donation drives. Interested? Apply to volunteer here!
Other Volunteer Opportunities in the Pacific
Volunteering in Hawaii is a great way to enjoy a vacation there. If you love life on the islands, know your journey doesn’t have to end in the Aloha State. You can combine volunteer programs in Hawaii with a project elsewhere in the Pacific.
Consider these organizations if you want to volunteer in the Pacific:
- Plan My Gap Year (PMGY): Known for affordable, trusted programs, PMGY earns excellent reviews from past volunteers (they have a 4.7 out of 5 rating on TrustPilot). PMGY has several projects in Fiji, including childcare and English teaching.
- Projects Abroad: A top-rated volunteer abroad organization, Projects Abroad has great service opportunities in Samoa. Coach sports, improve communities, do a nutrition internship, and more. They also have high-quality volunteer projects in Fiji, including an internationally recognized shark conservation project and a very popular community development initiative.
- International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ): Founded in 2007, IVHQ has sent more than 110,000 volunteers abroad. They have projects in amazing destinations like Fiji and New Zealand. For instance, in New Zealand, you can join a coast conservation initiative or environmental education campaign.
- GoEco: A leading voluntourism company, GoEco has excellent volunteer programs in Australia. Join the Great Barrier Reef Conservation project or help out at a wildlife sanctuary.
- Global Vision International (GVI): Founded in 1998, GVI aims to advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Through GVI, you can volunteer in Fiji in marine conservation, community development, and childcare.
Ready to Volunteer in Hawaii?
You now know all you can do as a volunteer in Hawaii. You can have a positive impact when you travel to the islands!
With all the volunteer programs in Hawaii, it can get difficult choosing a program. To simplify the process, think about your interests, skills, and availability. Talk with organizations directly to see if volunteering with them would be a good fit.
After choosing a volunteer program in Hawaii, apply! Then there will be only one thing left to do: Embark on your volunteer adventure to the Aloha State!