SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (March 21, 2014) -- Island Palm Communities (IPC) organizers are reaching out to Soldiers and families to offer their residents hands-on learning about traditional elements of Hawaiian culture.

"People coming here don't quite understand the Hawaiian culture and how certain things mean certain things," said Sheryl Ferido, community services manager, IPC. "You're here in Hawai'i for at least three years, some families even longer, so you might as well get familiar with the local people, the traditions, the culture, just the way of life and enjoy it."

Instead of Soldiers and families experiencing their Hawaii stay without important cultural exchanges, IPC is offering learning opportunities in lei-making, coconut weaving, nose flutes and Native Hawaiian tattoos.

Sequestration and budget cuts last year forced the cancellation of garrison-funded cultural classes.

"Our director, Tom Adams, wanted the culture of Hawai'i to be available to our residents, so we went ahead and picked up the bill. It was that important for IPC to continue the classes," Ferido explained.

Cultural practitioner Kawika Au heads lessons in Hawaiian crafts and traditions several times each month out of IPC's community centers on Aliamanu Military Reservation, Fort Shafter and here.

"I try to share different crafts and a make-and-take opportunity, at no cost to the person, and then I try to throw in a Hawaiian value and interact with them and talk to them about Hawaiian culture or about the Hawaiian community that they've moved into," said Au, who himself grew up an "Air Force brat," traveling around the country with his family from a very young age.

"I know about going to different places and trying to get involved with the host culture and host community," Au said. "And with Hawai'i, the host culture is so unique and so friendly and outgoing; however, a lot of people don't get to experience that because they don't go off post or just go to Waikiki."

Each class is different. As Au said, he brings a loose plan and supplies for a specific project -- flowers for lei-making, lauhala leaves for bracelet-weaving, etc., but often lets the interests and queries of participants determine where the conversation will go.

"I'll talk to them about anything -- sights around the island, general history, that kind of stuff," Au said, "and one of the most impressive things that I hear from people stationed here is that, wherever they go, they immerse themselves in the culture."

"We're pretty open-minded people and try to make the best of wherever we're at," agreed Jessica Reyes, who attended a recent ti leaf lei-making class with her son, Isaac, who will turn 2 years old next month.

Her husband is Staff Sgt. Steven Reyes of Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 25th Infantry Division.

"We have been here for a little more than a month," Reyes added. "We're very new to the island, so we just want to get out there and see what's out there and explore the Hawaiian culture."

These classes are just one example of the garrison's continued commitment in supporting the objectives of the Native Hawaiian Covenant.

Signed in 2010 between the Army and members of the Native Hawaiian community, the covenant's goal is to forge "a stronger relationship of cooperation, appreciation and understanding of Hawai'i's native culture and resources, as well as the Army's role in Hawai'i and the inclusiveness of its Soldiers in the local communities."

"I think it's important for us to be here so that we can show not only that the culture is still alive and thriving and that we're still doing the things that my ancestors did, but that we're more than willing to welcome others into it and let them participate with us," Au said.

"There's just so much to learn," added Reyes. "We're going to be here for at least three years, so we'd really like to learn more and embrace it while we can."

Island Palm Communities provides monthly Hawaiian Cultural Classes at no cost to Soldiers and families who live in both North and South IPC communities. Classes are held at 4 p.m. on the following days and locations:
•Every 1st Wednesday, Fort Shafter Community Center;
•Every 1st Thursday, Kaena Community Center, Schofield Barracks;
•Every 2nd and 4th Thursday, Porter Community Center, Schofield Barracks; and
•Every 4th Monday, Aliamanu Community Center.
Instruction for the month of April will be on how to make and play a 'ohe hano ihu, or Hawaiian nose flute. To reserve a space, email your name and the number of people attending to