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Embracing the Beauty of Unstructured Moments

By Jenn Merritt

As part of our ongoing efforts to explore the complexities of our organizational history and establish intentional connections to Hawaii, we have been working closely with Puna Dawson. Puna is a record keeper of Hawaiian culture and honored elder who works with organizations around the world that celebrate diversity and Hawaiian cultural values.  

We were honored to welcome Puna and some of her students to camp for a visit this summer. Upon Puna’s arrival at Hive, she announced that smooth, egg-shaped stones were needed as rhythmic instruments for teaching Hula. Immediately, a group of campers ran enthusiastically to ask their counselors if they could help. The adventure that ensued was a spontaneous, camper-guided trip to the stream in search of the perfect rocks. Along the way, campers shared stories about their summer experiences at Hive, and Puna’s student, Eliza, explained more about the purpose of ʻIliʻili stones, used to create percussion sounds that become part of the arm movements in Hula dancing. After testing many stones for the perfect click, the campers carefully selected a few to bring back.  

This joyful, spontaneous search for river rocks illustrates the power of unstructured learning moments at camp. The Hivers felt empowered to welcome guests into the community, and unique opportunities for shared learning and authentic connections emerged. With few pressures from the outside world, embracing an unplanned journey with new friends is one of the many gifts of camp.  

Puna’s trip to Vermont in August 2023 coincided with the devastating wind-driven wildfires on the island of Maui, which prompted evacuations and caused widespread damage. When asked how we could be helpful in the response and rescue efforts, Puna told us about Kanu Hawaii, which began in 2006 as a movement of everyday people, working to protect sustainable, compassionate, and economically resilient communities. The Aloha Foundation made a contribution to Kanu Hawaii on behalf of our community.  

Of her visit, Puna wrote, “The spirit of Aloha is alive and well there at the lake sites in the beautiful forests of the Aloha camps. The gift to all of the Abenaki elders and the Halau is priceless! Mahalo a nui loa for sharing the children and families of the Aloha Foundation with all of us. We look forward to the conversations and the continued relationship of appreciation, trust and gratitude.” 

More in our November issue of Reveille! 

For questions or more information about our work to understand and strengthen the Aloha Foundation’s Hawaiian connections, contact Arlynn Polletta, Director of Equity, Inclusion, & Outreach at apolletta@alohafoundation.org.