Lending A Hand (And A Voice) To Help

Park volunteers (from left) John Schmidt, Graeme Merrin, Ray Harris, Scott Oakley, Thomas Noyes, Scott Hansen and Maka Iimi

Thomas Noyes is big on volunteering, especially at Kamalani Playground

Crawling on a spider web and exploring the inside of an erupting volcano have been imaginative adventures for the children of Kaua’i since 1994. And if it weren’t for the commitment of Thomas Noyes in helping to maintain Kamalani Playground, kids across the island (and maybe even some adults) wouldn’t get the chance to flex their muscles or creativity in quite the same way.

The playground – originally constructed by 7,000 volunteers in five days – is just one of the many ways Noyes, Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park general coordinator, hopes to help mitigate some of the health hazards currently plaguing Americans today.

“Nowadays we’re subject to increased prevalence of diabetes, coronary disease and respiratory disease,” he says. “And these are all exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.”

Thus Noyes spends some six to eight hours each week voluntarily creating a more active lifestyle for kamaaina.

Part of his efforts include spearheading the opening of three new sports fields at the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Sports Park in Lydgate Park last year and serving as secretary for the continued creation of the Kaua’i Path, Ke Ala Hele Makalae. The multiuse path is set to eventually link 17 miles between Anahola and Nawiliwili.

“Even if we don’t eliminate obesity and overweight conditions, if we can slow the rate of increase, that’s a benefit,” says Noyes, who was recently employed as the Hawaii project coordinator for the state Department of Health’s “Communities Putting Prevention to Work.”

“If we can diminish the prevalence, that’s a significant benefit because health care costs are directly impacted by lifestyle,” he adds. “And lifestyle is a result of our built-in environment.”

People used to walk everywhere 100 years ago; now they drive to the grocery store five minutes away “because there aren’t facilities that encourage people to walk or bicycle in their community,” says Noyes. “That’s something we can easily address given the political will and the incentive to take on those challenges.”

A large part of Noyes’ activities each week entails attending advisory committee meetings – such as those encompassing statewide pedestrian and transportation plans – in order to advocate increased walkability and bike-friendly features across the island.

“Maintaining a voice at these different meetings,” he says, is important, and anyone who feels passionately about something should consider political involvement.

And because Noyes is so passionate and outspoken about healthy travel, the section of highway currently under construction between Lihue Bridge and Kaua’i Community College will come equipped with 8-foot sidewalks on each side of the roadway, in addition to bicycle lanes.

But even if advocacy isn’t up one’s bicycle alley, Noyes says, there are many other volunteer opportunities that have broad appeal where you can feel like you’ve made a difference and use these as opportunities to network and make new friends.

Every year, at least 100 volunteers work together at Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park’s Earth Day and National Make A Difference Day events. And several participants are always on hand to assist Friends of the Path the second Saturday of each month to help clear Ke Ala Hele Makalae of any debris.

“I would recommend everyone to try it once and see how it feels,” Noyes says regarding the many different opportunities for volunteering with these organizations. “It’s not for everybody, but it’s pretty easy to put out a notice and, as a result, have 100 people show up and work hard and feel wonderful about it at the end of the day. There’s got to be some reason why people keep coming back for more.”

Volunteering is an “innately satisfying activity” and helps to sustain a sense of well-being, he says.

Visit kamalani.org or kauaipath.org for more information.

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