`Imiloa is volunteer-friendly

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Date: Friday, March 3, 2006
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

The newly opened ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is the epitome of an “if you build it, they will come” initiative. In that spirit, the staff and management of the $28 million, 42,000 square-foot interpretive center and planetarium in the University of Hawaii at HiloUniversity Park of Science and Technology are preparing for the waves of visitors they anticipate will fill the planetarium and crowd the exhibition hall in the foreseeable future.

As with any museum, volunteers are a large and important component of the workforce. While ‘Imiloa has a corps of friendly well-versed volunteers, more kokua is needed, according to ‘Imiloa volunteer coordinator Cheryl Reeser.

“The most obvious need is for docents,” she said. “Not just docents for the exhibit hall, but also outdoor docents to describe our landscaping. We have a lot of native plants and plants introduced by Polynesians. So we need docents who will explain the astronomy side and the Hawaiian culture side, but we also need some people who can explain our outdoor experience.

“We’re going to have a gift shop, so we need help in there with sales,” she added. “We are going to have an admissions desk where we sell tickets and book reservations; we’re going to need help with that. We need to get the Center going and start setting up our systems. Right now a volunteer is helping us with the signs we’ll be putting on our plants to identify them.”

Mae Amana, a petite and vivacious grandmother who works as an adult corrections officer but appears more like a senior flight attendant, has included volunteering at ‘Imiloa to the ways she connects with her Hawaiian culture.

“Before opening, they held several functions for different groups of people,” she said. “I was here to help the kupuna feel comfortable about coming through such a modern exhibit. And at first, walking into the planetarium, they just kind of looked around like ‘whoa.’ A lot of them had never been in a building like that. They got a sneak preview of the planetarium. I know that they still felt a little uncomfortable, so I started to use the words ‘Aunty, Uncle, come this way.’ I got them to come through the exhibits, and what was so nice is that the exhibits start with the Hawaiian culture part. It goes into the Kumulipo chant. It is a very long chant, over 2,100 lines. It’s the chant of creation. And to hear it, it really gives you chicken skin. This museum is keeping it so real. It’s not tourist stuff. It was a really good experience for them and that was what was so rewarding
for me.”

“I think ‘Imiloa is really important because there are a lot of Hawaiian students that don’t know they can be interested in science and still be strong in their culture,” added Sabrina Machado, a UH Hilo senior from Koloa, Kaua‘i, who will graduate in May with a B.A. in communication. “I really love it here. I can be Hawaiian and still be interested in science and I can share my interest in science without betraying my culture.”

The personable Machado, like the other volunteers, said that she enjoys the social aspect of volunteerism, as well.

“I’m having fun meeting the other docents,” she said. “They’re really different groups of people—musicians, artists, retired schoolteachers. And I like watching people’s expressions when they realize something. Like when they go into the ‘piko’ area and they look up and they see the stars for the first time and they say, ‘Wow!’ Or when they look down at the glass at the adze quarry and they just trip out over it and they start balancing on it or jumping over it. Or when they look at a display and they go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that!’ They’re fascinated and surprised when they learn something and you can see the excitement on their faces.”

Education is the reason Jean Kawachika, who retired two years ago as an eighth-grade social studies and English teacher at Kea‘au Middle School, decided to volunteer at ‘Imiloa.

“I found out about the whole volunteering thing through the Retired Teachers’ Organization,” Kawachika noted. “As a volunteer and a retired educator, I’m still an educator. You can’t help but enjoy this. I love it! There’s learning all around you. This place is history brought alive. It’s geography brought alive. It’s science brought alive. And it’s not just science, it’s far more—it’s philosophy, the beginnings of the Universe.”

Kawachika has been working in membership recruitment and feels just as strongly about that as she does about volunteering and education.

“There’s no way you can absorb everything the first time,” she explained. “You have to come back umpteen times to get it all. Individual membership is $45 and that’s for 12 months. Remember, that as a kama‘aina, we pay $10 just for coming in. That becomes a free ride at no time. If you’re a student or teacher, it’s $30 for 12 months. There’s a patron membership for $100. That is basically three adults. That’s what it comes down to. So if you bring two malihini guests, that’s $14.50 each or $29 plus $10 for yourself. You more than make that up in three visits.” For membership or more information, call Marketing Manager Gloria Chun Hoo at 969-9705.

Gene Barber, a retired electronic engineer and retired Lt. Cmdr. in the U.S. Naval Reserve who recently came to Hilo from the San Diego area, said that he enjoys ‘Imiloa’s “balance between the technical and scientific and the humanities.”

“I’ve volunteered for many things throughout the years,” said Barber, who turns 81 this month. “I was a Boy Scouts scoutmaster for years and I worked with the Torrey Pines Docent Society in San Diego for a number of years. I’ve taught computers and I’ve taught canoeing. I believe in volunteering. The best way to learn things, I believe, is to try and teach them, or guide people in the process, and we learn in the process. In addition to being scientifically and technically oriented, I’m a people person.”

Reeser said there is an immediate need for volunteers who speak either Hawaiian or Japanese in addition to English as well as volunteers who can converse in sign language for the hearing-impaired.

“We’re just starting out, we’re still growing and we’re developing different positions for volunteers and actually, some of the volunteers are helping us develop positions, so that’s where we are,” she concluded. “But the main thing is, what we want is volunteers who have enthusiasm for the Center, just as we do. We’re in the process of developing a really good training program for everyone, so they have a really diverse background on the Center, not just one area.”

Volunteer applications are available online at www.imiloahawaii.org. For more information on volunteering, call Reeser at 969-9731.

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