Cultivating community and giving back: Alaska Airlines’ commitment to care for Hawaiʻi 

On a warm, overcast morning, a group of volunteers from Alaska Airlines came together on the lush grounds of Ka Papa Loʻi ʻO Punaluʻu to celebrate Earth Day by tending taro patches. More than 20 Hawaiʻi-based Alaska team members and their families gathered in the spirit of mālama ʻāina – caring for and honoring the land – at the three-acre agricultural site nestled in a rural community on Oʻahu’s windward coast. 

“It’s really exciting,” said Ashlyn Onaga, Honolulu Station Supervisor. “It’s my first time here—I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while to give back to the community and help our ʻāina (land).” 

The taro plant, known as kalo in the Hawaiian language, holds special significance in Native Hawaiian culture. Kalo was brought to Hawaiʻi by the first voyagers to reach the islands. In ancient moʻolelo (storytelling), kalo was part of the creation story, nourishing all Hawaiians. Tending to the plants and the loʻi (patches) they grow in is part of a reciprocal relationship between land and people. 

In observance of Earth Day, a group of Alaska Airlines team members and their families tended taro patches at Ka Papa Lo‘i ʻO Punaluʻu


Shannon Cheng and Ashlyn Onaga shape mounds of soil protecting young kalo plants. 

The University of Hawaiʻi, in partnership with Kamehameha Schools, maintains Ka Papa Lo‘i ʻO Punaluʻu. Dozens of plants grow in irrigated wetland patches, connected by a flowing stream. The restoration of the loʻi and streamflow also led to the return of native birds and other plants and animals. Ka Papa Lo‘i ʻO Punaluʻu welcomes volunteers several weekends a month to help clear invasive plants, maintain the streamflow, and care for the growing kalo.  

Having volunteers working with the loʻi and the kalo is really important to normalize these experiences,” said Ryse Akiu, who helps to manage Ka Papa Loʻi ʻO Punaluʻu. “It gives people an opportunity to build pilina (connection) and relationships, not only with Punaluʻu and all the things that exist here but also with each other.” 

Laulima is a word that we use, meaning cooperation and teamwork, and that’s what we do through loʻi work,” Akiu continued. “We have to work together to accomplish some of these huge tasks.” 

This spirit of laulima is also at the heart of Alaska Airlines’ ongoing partnership with Kanu Hawaii. This nonprofit organization  started Volunteer Month Hawai‘i, which is observed throughout April.  

“‘Kanu’ in Hawaiian means ‘to plant,’” said Keone Kealoha, Executive Director of Kanu Hawaii. “Our aim is to plant seeds of responsibility and community today to foster positive change for tomorrow.”  

Founded by 40 individuals concerned about preserving the community spirit and ‘aloha’ they grew up with, Kanu Hawaii has evolved into a vast network, hosting the largest volunteer opportunity platform in the state.  

“Alaska Airlines gave us our first sponsorship, our first major donation, and they continue to innovate,” said Kealoha. He added that Alaska’s work with Kanu is, “not just a hat tip or nod to a good idea. It’s a gateway to a deeper commitment and promise to our kids and our place.” 

In 2018, Alaska was the first major business in the visitor industry to sign on as a sponsor of what was then Volunteer Week Hawai‘i, a local celebration of National Volunteer Week. Today, the partnership continues with Alaska helping to promote the ‘Pledge To Our Keiki’, inspired by similar global commitments, to advocate for a sustainable and inclusive future for Hawai‘i’s children.  

Since its launch, thousands of people have signed the pledge, which Alaska promotes via pre-trip materials and digital platforms.  

“The pledge is a statement – it’s about awareness,” said Kealoha. “But we want to make it easy for people to actionize the pledge, so we’ve connected it to volunteer activities, in person, virtually, or remotely.” 

For visitors to Hawai‘i who want to take action in support of the pledge, Kanu Hawaii recently collaborated with the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority to launch the Mālama Hawai‘i Volunteer Dashboard. This online tool allows visitors to search for local volunteer opportunities tailored to their interests and the location and dates of their trip. 

For our team working at Ka Papa Lo‘i ʻO Punaluʻu, the experience was an opportunity to connect with each other and strengthen their ties to the community.  

It’s important to take care of our planet,” said sixth-grader Chandler Beyer, son of David Beyer, director of risk management at Alaska. “We can help preserve our planet and preserve everything we have for future generations to come.”