Restoring Roots: Lahainaluna High School takes steps toward replanting Lahaina with help from volunteers

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  • A root grafted from the 250-year-old ‘ulu (breadfruit) tree named “Puloa” damaged in Lahaina’s 2023 wildfire will be planted at Lahainaluna High School. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Uncle Kimokeo presides over the workday blessing at Lahainaluna High School on March 20, 2024. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Southwest employees volunteer at an event organized by Kanu Hawaii. PC: JD Pells
  • Team Rubicon volunteers at Lahainaluna High School. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • (L-R) Lahainaluna Agricultural Learning Center Coordinator Nathan Pallet, Chief Marketing Officer at Maui Gold Tambara Garrick, and Maui Mayor Richard Bissen. PC: Maui Now / JD Pells

The Lahainaluna High School once provided fruit, vegetables and livestock produce to its students and community. Its vast agricultural grounds received a manicure from local students, organizations and volunteers on Wednesday, bringing the school one step closer to its goal of replanting Lahaina.

The workday volunteer event was organized by Kanu Hawaiʻi’s Pledge To Our Keiki and focused on clearing land at Lahainaluna High School’s agricultural land to prepare it to grow native lei flowers, plants and trees for Lahaina. It was also the largest workday at the school since the fire.

“Cleaning up the nursery here is important for us to be able to have a larger space to grow our native plants and later give them to the community, to replant Lahaina, or put them on campus to expand our native seed bank that we hope to produce as a result of this cleanup today,” said Nathan Pallet, Lahainaluna Agricultural Learning Center coordinator.

The event also removed green waste from Lahainaluna High School’s orchard area, where its students and staff plan to stock fruit trees for grafting to help West Maui residents replant their yards with the types of trees they used to have.


Front and center during the workday’s morning blessing was something familiar: a grafted root from the 250-year-old ‘ulu (breadfruit) tree named “Puloa,” now fighting for its life near the Baldwin Home Museum. Pallet said he wants to make sure the baby tree is placed “in the right spot” on campus, as the tree’s genealogy may be traced back as many as 1,200 years.

‘Ulu trees hold special historical significance in the area of the burn zone, which is known in Hawaiian history as malu ‘ulu o Lele: “the shaded breadfruit grove of Lahaina.” It is one of the many types of food crops and plants the Lahainaluna High School Agricultural Department is trying to bring back to Lahaina town following the wildfires in 2023.

Pallet emphasized how these plants will strengthen the sense of belonging on campus.

“Students can see what the past looked like, what it looks like while they’re doing something and then what it’s going to look like in the future,” Pallet said.


“In the past, Lahainaluna was very well known for their agriculture, career pathways, and they were able to source foods back then,” said a FFA student ambassador from Maui High School. “I’m really happy to see everyone come together and start that over again.”

  • Lahainaluna Agricultural Department. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Anais Conley-Kapoi, student ambassador for Pledge To Our Keiki. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Volunteers clean up the nursery, make ready for new plants at Lahainaluna High School. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Maui Mayor Richard Bissen helps in the cleanup efforts at Lahainaluna High School. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Keiki volunteer at Lahainaluna High School on March 20, 2024. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Maui Mayor Richard Bissen stands with FFA (Future Farmers of America) student ambassadors from Maui high schools. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now

Employees of Southwest Airlines, HouseMart Ace Hardware, Herc Rentals, Maui Gold and Team Rubicon volunteered at the event alongside Lahainaluna High School agricultural staff and student ambassadors of FFA (Future Farmers of America) and Pledge To Our Keiki.

“It’s really heartwarming. It made me so happy to see how much people care about wanting to help our school,” said Kealohilani Poopaa-Kanohokula, FFA chapter president and a first-year student at Lahainaluna High School.

To celebrate its five year anniversary in Hawaiʻi, Southwest Airlines brought 23 employees to the school. “This event is really all about aligning what Southwest is known for,” said Samantha Unell, senior manager of Southwest Business. “We love to serve the communities that we’re in.”


The airline brought employees from its Maui and neighboring island operations, as well as from the mainland to volunteer the day at Lahainaluna High School.

Even Maui Mayor Richard Bissen lent a hand in the workday.

“These students from Lahainaluna chose to come here for their spring break, so the least we could do as adults is show up and support them,” Mayor Bissen said. “When you think about what they’re trying to do to revitalize native plants, that’s all about building foundation. It’s about building culture, returning culture and helping to life up our people.”

The workday was a small preview of Earth Month, as 20,000 volunteers are expected to help in various efforts over 600 events across the state this April, according to Kanu Hawaiʻi.

Anais Conley-Kapoi, the student ambassador for Pledge To Our Keiki and a junior at Kamehameha Schools Maui, helped organize and volunteer for the workday event.

“I think, especially because of what had happened in Lahaina, it’s important to see our community get together and find ways to volunteer,” Conley-Kapoi said.

The workday kicked of Earth Month in Hawaiʻi, in partnership with Earth Day Global, according to Kanu Hawaiʻi. Coming up, Conley-Kapoi prepares to lead faith, indigenous, tribal and youth leaders in a chant of E Ala Ē and to raise awareness about the global mission of Earth Day at Haleakalā National Park on April 22, 2024.

JD Pells
JD is a news reporter for Maui Now. He has contributed stories to TCU 360, Fort Worth Report and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. JD interned at Maui Now in 2021. He graduated from the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, with a bachelor's in journalism and business in 2022, before coming back home to Maui with the purpose of serving his community. He can be reached at [email protected].
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