Hundreds of volunteers make 24th annual Kona Brewers Festival a success

KAILUA-KONA — Hours before the first sample was poured at the 24th annual Kona Brewers Festival, scores of volunteers spread throughout the luau grounds of the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, setting up banners, unpacking glasses and plateware and preparing for the crowds to come.

From setup to staffing zero-waste stations to the 130 beer-pourers and beyond, festival executive director Kate Jacobson said there are 450 volunteers representing nonprofit organizations throughout the community that help make the annual celebration a success.

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Volunteers like Jené Green of Keoua Honaunau Canoe Club, which was partnering for the first time with the festival as one of more than two dozen beneficiaries, see it as a win-win for everyone.

“I think that it’s imperative for the community to come together as one to be able to work together to give visitors and residents such a neat event at the same time benefiting different nonprofits that want to give back to the community,” Green said.

In exchange for the volunteers’ efforts, their respective nonprofits receive a donation to further their diverse array of missions throughout the community.

The festival expects to raise $100,000 this year to be distributed among 25 nonprofit organizations, Jacobson said, making more than $1.3 million the festival has distributed over the years.

Green said the money will help support the canoe club’s youth program.

“For us personally, the kids are the future,” she said. “They’re the future of everything, but for our exact nonprofit, it’s helping the youth to perpetuate the culture and to be able to grow up and be the future of this sport.”

This year for many beneficiaries marks a continuation of a relationship that goes back years, such as Kealakehe Project Grad, which offers graduating seniors of Kealakehe High School and West Hawaii Explorations Academy a safe and fun event to celebrate their achievements with their classmates.

“It’s substantial to our existence to have this partnership,” said Pamela Wong, a coordinator with Kealakehe Project Grad, saying it provides about 10 percent of its budget.

Students, too, recognized the value of the partnership and what it means for their peers.

“It’s nice knowing that Kealakehe was involved with the event and the students from our school were involved,” Kealakehe senior Thaya Texeira said Saturday morning. “It’ll put a good name out for our school, especially since we can raise money for an event that helps us after graduation.”

The group had about 20 students and a handful of adults in the morning working to set up plateware and take away cardboard for recycling before gates opened to guests.

“To me,” said Dan Chester Bermoro, also a senior at Kealakehe, “it feels like an opportunity for other students to help out and reach to other people who need help.”

The list of beneficiaries spans a wide array of organizations working to meet a diversity of missions throughout the community.

Emily Crabill, operations director at Donkey Mill Art Center, said the funds it receives this year will go toward supporting its youth program, specifically by allowing the organization to offer scholarships for kids to take part in its after-school arts program.

“It’s just such a community-builder,” she said of the festival.

Through their arts education programs, Crabill said kids can learn not only technical skills but also develop a mind for creative problem solving and the idea of connecting themselves with their community.

And for other volunteers, like Lynne and Alex Siqueiros, the chance to be a part of the festival and the “zero waste” mission it pursues is incentive enough to dedicate their Saturday.

“It’s what we need here,” said Lynne Siqueiros. “We are tourist-based, and we produce a lot of waste, and we don’t have a lot of room to take care of that.”

Last year, she said, they volunteered to help raise funds for Kai Opua Canoe Club, and this year they came back on their own “because it’s so inspirational.”

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The time they invest into the festival, Alex Siqueiros said, is minimal compared to the payoff they receive. He said working the zero-waste stations is an opportunity to not just meet tourists, but also inform many local residents as well.

“I think,” he said, “we get just as much out of it as the event does for the time we put in.”

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