A day of service: Kaiser Permanente volunteers give back on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

  • The Saucedo family, Isaac, Delana, Lucas and Lily plant dryland forest seedlings at Puu Waawaa Monday for Kaiser Permanente's Annual Day of Service. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Lauren Tomich, along with her baby, Maulukua, waters an ili ee she just planted at Puu Waawaa.

  • Flags mark the spots where volunteers planted dryland forest seedlings at Puu Waawaa Monday at Kaiser Permanente's Annual Day of Service. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Virgil Medeiros cuts back a Hawaiian Morning Glory vine at Puu Waawaa Monday at Kaiser Permanente's Annual Day of Service. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Ruth Walker trims Hawaiian Morning Glory vines at Puu Waawaa Monday for the Kaiser Permanente Annual Day of Service. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A nene strolls through native dryland forest plants propagated three years ago by volunteers at Kaiser Permanente's Annual Day of Service at Puu Waawaa. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

PUU WAAWAA — Nene wandered, honked and flew around the 55-acre enclosure at Puu Waawaa as volunteers planted, watered, weeded and created trails at the dryland forest for Kaiser Permanente’s annual Day of Service.

Nearly 70 physicians, family, friends and community members used their holiday to participate in the organization’s 13th annual event in West Hawaii.

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Dr. Rick Fong, pediatrician and physician-in-charge of Kaiser Permanente’s Hawaii Island clinics, said that having a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day exemplified what the leader stood for.

“We are part of the community and want to give back and perpetuate the local culture,” said Fong.

A 5-foot fence was erected around the site’s reservoir, known as Hau Aina, to keep ungulates out of the area and start the dry forest restoration project.

More than 40 nesting nene call the area home. Hawaiian stilts and coots can be seen at the water.

Just three years ago, the hillside along the fence perimeter was overgrown with fountain grass. That’s when Kaiser partnered with Kaakahui o Ka Nahelelele for their annual day of service and began planting native seedlings.

Today, a thriving ecosystem can be seen, reminiscent of pre-contact times, according to Mary Metcalf, site coordinator with Kaakahui o Ka Nahelelele.

Interpretive trails have been incorporated in the out-planting and community members are encouraged to enjoy and learn about the native plants, as well as volunteering at reforestation days listed on the Puu Waawaa Facebook page.

“We have lost over 90 percent of the dryland forest ecosystem with the introduction of invasive species,” said Metcalf. “We need to turn this around.”

Based on the success evident by the thriving plants, Monday’s endeavor and continuous planting within the perimeter is a definite start.

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“We love the partnership with Kaiser,” continues Metcalf. “They heal people and understand the importance of the health of the land and its connection to the health of the people.”

More than 900 people affiliated with Kaiser Permanente across the state volunteered Monday. In addition to Puu Waawaa, Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered at Kamokuna, a coastal environment located in a land division known as Honohononui in Hilo. Volunteers helped restore the coastline, removed invasive plant species and gathered rocks for Haleolono Fishpond.