by Stephanie Launiu
Hilo is known for its lush green spaces, almost-daily rains, and of course - the rainbows.
Everyone needs a hometown. That nest full of familiar places where you know the shortcuts to get somewhere fast, even if it means trespassing or jumping a couple of fences. The place where there are people who knew your parents before they met. Where you can close your eyes and recall the sights and sounds of your best memories, and where your children and grandchildren wish they lived now even though they have high-paying jobs and big houses somewhere else.
WHERE I LIVE… HILO, HAWAII!
There is something very humbling about living in a place that is on many people’s bucket lists. Living in a vacation destination like Hawaii, I’ve seen the best and worst of tourism and its effects on those of us who are living our daily lives in the place travelers have chosen to visit.
The Hawaiian archipelago is made up of eight main islands that are the most isolated population centers anywhere in the world, and Hawaii is at the top of the Polynesian Triangle with Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) at the bottom. It’s about 2,400 miles to the mainland U.S. and 4,000 miles to Japan. The shortest flight to the nearest airport outside of the State of Hawaii will take you a little more than five hours flying over ocean.
Hilo is the name of my hometown on the Island of Hawaii, also nicknamed the Big Island because it is larger than all of the other islands combined. There are two main towns on the island – Hilo on the eastern side and Kona on the western side. Neither of these towns are big enough to be called a city, and the entire island is considered rural.
I’ve lived in other places during my life, mostly in Southern California. I can honestly say that I enjoyed living wherever I’ve been planted, but there is no place like my hometown of Hilo. I hope you’ll agree.
Puhi Bay. The shoreline waters of Hilo are a mix of underground spring water from Mauna Kea and the Pacific Ocean. This often makes for a cool refreshing swim.
THE ANCIENT HISTORY
If it’s humbling to be on somebody’s bucket list, then it’s really humbling to know that my Native Hawaiian ancestors have lived in Hilo for 900 years. That’s right. Nine centuries.
Archaeologists estimate that the first Polynesians landed in Hilo about 1100 AD, and my mo'okū'auhau (genealogy) says that I descend from some of those on the first canoes.
I often wonder where my ancient ones walked. Did they climb the hill near my house? They swam in the same ocean and inhabited the bare earth under today’s concrete and asphalt. Where are their bones buried? What did they love about Hilo?
Isolated from the western world, the evolution of European nations, and scientific discoveries, how did the ancient ones develop such a thriving sustainable society without foreign contact until the end of the 18th century?
The word ‘Hilo’ (pronounced HEE-low) has several meanings in ‘Olelo Hawai'i (the Hawaiian language). Hilo was a famous Hawaiian navigator. Hilo also means ‘twisted or braided’. But the most well-known meaning is that the name Hilo is given to the first night of the new moon.
Ancient Hawaiians understood that the moon had a definite effect on the ocean and tides. Hilo is the very first night when a sliver of moonlight can be seen after Muku, the final night of the lunar phase when the moon is completely dark and rebuilding her energy. Traditionally, the day and night of the Hilo moon was thought to be good for deep sea fishing but not for reef fishing. It was also considered a good time to gather below-ground roots and vegetables.
THE LAND AND CLIMATE
The town of Hilo lays sprawling at the feet of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the State of Hawaii. Most of Hilo is built just a few feet above sea level, and that has cost it dearly over the past century. Hilo experienced three devastating tsunamis – in 1946, 1960 and 1975 that wiped out much of Downtown Hilo and killed a total of 222 people. There is now a Tsunami Warning System that tracks earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific, but all you can really do when a tsunami is imminent is to get to higher ground.
All of the Hawaiian Islands are of volcanic origin. That means underwater volcanoes erupted over millions of years until the lava rose above sea level and formed islands. The island I live on is the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands. Even as I write this, Kilauea Volcano about 30 miles away is erupting fresh hot lava although it is remaining in the crater and not flowing out. As recently as 2018, a lava flow in a neighboring district flowed downhill to the ocean destroying over 700 homes in its path.
Lava has not flowed into the Hilo district since 1984, although that flow didn’t destroy homes or lives. But there are three volcanoes on the Big Island and they are considered dormant but not dead. That means that they are likely to erupt again at some time in the future. Mauna Kea hasn’t erupted in 4,500 years but scientists predict that she will again, although it is impossible to know when. People in Hilo have reverence for our volcanoes, but don’t live in fear of them. We realize that there are many things we don’t control in life, and volcanic eruptions is one of them.
Some of Hilo is built on lava flows that happened in the 19th century.
You will be disappointed if you want to see white sand beaches in Hilo. They aren’t here. Our beaches and shorelines are rocky and have black sand, which is just lava that has worn down over time. They offer a unique beauty not found in many parts of the world.
The black sand beach at Hilo Bay.
James Kealoha Beach Park. Locals call it "Four Miles Beach", a longtime nickname because it is four miles from the downtown Hilo post office which was a big landmark in the past. This is a great snorkeling spot, and it opens to deep ocean water.
Hilo is known for her prolific rains, which keep a carpet of lush green foliage throughout the Hilo district. In the Hawaiian language, Hilo’s mist-like rain is known as ka ua kani lehua (the rain that rustles lehua blossoms).
Red ohia lehua blossom. The blossoms also grow in white, yellow and orange.
Hawaii doesn’t have the four seasons. We have a rainy season and a dry season when it tends to rain less, although our high mountains catch gathering rain clouds and break them open. Hilo gets about 127 inches of rain per year. Some say that Hilo is the rainiest place in the U.S., but I’ve never felt that way living here and I don’t see rain as a negative. Hilo has good drainage with its porous lava underbelly, and the aquifers on our island are full of fresh water renewed constantly. The rain happens often at night, and when the day begins with rain it often ends with sunshine. Another nickname for the Big Island is the Orchid Isle because of the orchids that grow profusely here on the roadside and in the wild. I love the Hilo rain because it brings flowers and rainbows.
These phalaenopsis orchids are growing in my front yard.
Hilo is known for its vast array of anthuriums. If you're ever on an interisland airplane flight and you see someone holding anthuriums as they board, you can bet they are coming from Hilo.
Since Hilo faces the east, we get the gorgeous sunrises in the morning. I think this must be the reason that Hiloans are traditionally early- risers. We wake up with the sun and sometimes…before.
We’re not afraid of hard work and physical labor. In the 19th and 20th centuries immigrants came from China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea and Portugal to work in the sugar plantations in Hilo and other plantation towns that still dot the landscape around the island. Each town has an old rusting hulk of a sugar refinery somewhere within it. A stark memory of when sugar was king, and cloudy smoke belched out into the tropic breezes.
Together, the people of Hilo have triumphed over natural disasters like lava flows, tidal waves, tsunami and earthquakes, and have rebuilt their seaside neighborhoods many times over.
Surviving nature’s destruction and rebuilding over the years, the people of Hilo are known to be tenacious and scrappy, with a “live and let live” attitude. They dive into the ocean from the lava-rock beaches. Daily life continues while the volcano erupts a short drive away. Children play soccer and adults run marathons regardless of the rain. But in the midst of all of this, you are unlikely to hear a car horn here, because Hilo drivers are known for their polite driving habits and consider it rude to honk your horn.
Playing soccer in the rain is the norm in Hilo. (Photo by Living Hilo Style)
But along with our scrappiness, comes an attitude that is not dependent on tourism. There are beautiful tourist-centric cities in Hawaii where the entire town turns towards visitors and tourism is a compelling part of the city budget. Hilo isn't like that for the most part.
We do have some professional tours that will take visitors to the volcano or out for ocean sports. We have no professional luau shows targeting tourists. There's no shortage of hula dancers in Hilo. If you connect with a Hilo family, they're more likely to invite you to their house for dinner. Then after dinner, they'll pull out the ukulele and guitars and sing and dance to Hawaiian music. On their own time. In their own way. No charge. That's Hilo.
Hilo is a multi-racial and multi-cultural community. When the plantations brought in workers for the fields, they segregated them by the country they came from into “camps”. This was done to simplify life because of the language barriers. But eventually, people intermarried and racial lines blurred and became less of an issue with the passage of time.
When I say “multi-racial and multi-cultural”, I’m referring to a mix of the original races that immigrated to Hawaii as Christian missionaries, throughout the 19th century and to work on the sugar plantations. We don’t have a large mix of African Americans, Hispanics or Middle Eastern people. Hiloans are primarily mixed Hawaiian, Asian and Caucasian. I am Hawaiian-Chinese-French.
We celebrate Chinese New Year. It’s one of the days in Hawaii where you can legally do fireworks. We celebrate Girls’ Day on March 3 which is a Japanese holiday known as Hinamatsuri. On May 5, we celebrate Boys’ Day, another Japanese holiday known as Tango no Sekku. You will see large fabric carp banners flying in front of homes to represent how many boys they have in their family. Portuguese Day in the Park is an annual event honoring those from Portugal who settled in Hilo and have made it a better place.
Although Hilo is multi-cultural, there has always been a realization that there is a native culture that predominates and has woven itself into every other culture on the islands. Generations of Hilo natives have become “keepers of the flame” with a focus on preserving Native Hawaiian culture and language.
Hilo’s largest annual event is the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival held in the spring when thousands of visitors travel from around the globe to Hilo. Hilo’s population easily doubles during the week-long festival. If you want to see authentic hula, then come to Merrie Monarch where dozens of hula hālau (hula schools), consisting of both men and women, come to compete in hula. Craft fairs and booths are on every corner, and they feature traditional Hawaiian products. The smell of flower lei lingers in the air during that entire week. And on Saturday of Merrie Monarch Week, there is a large parade that winds through Hilo Town.
Merrie Monarch Parade. This woman, known as a pa’ū rider, represents the Island of Hawaii. Each island is represented by a color and flower. For Hawaii Island, it's red and the ohia lehua flower.
Hawaii is the only state to formally recognize two official languages - English and Hawaiian. In 1984, Native Hawaiians pushed to begin state-funded Punana Leo preschools that are taught completely in the Hawaiian language. Hilo was one of the first sites to start up.
Punana Leo preschool in Hilo. This is a class of future speakers of 'Olelo Hawai'i. Today there are K-12 schools that offer Hawaiian immersion programs throughout the state.
University of Hawaii at Hilo campus. (Photo Credit: UH Hilo)
On the slopes of Mauna Kea, Native Hawaiians blocked the access road for months recently in opposition to the building of a thirty-meter telescope on the summit that they consider sacred ground. A thirty-meter telescope would be three football fields long and would dominate the summit.
Native Hawaiian activism and cultural advocacy is alive and well in Hilo.
A family protests the building of a Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO IN HILO?
There are lots of activities in Hilo. Most of them are outdoor activities, sports, cultural events and family-based or church-centered activities. Family-based means whoever you love and call your family. The word for that in Hawaiian is 'ohana. Many people have traveled to Hawaii, decided to stay and live here, and don't have blood relatives. But they have lots of family in Hilo.
If you don't attend a church, there are lots of clubs and social gatherings for people who have common interests like gardening, or maybe just orchids. There are service clubs and school-based events for children and parents. Being a university town, Hilo always has things going on there for the community.
Here's a pictorial rundown of some of the places to go in and around Hilo that I haven't already mentioned.
Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo is the only one of its kind in the U.S. And it's FREE!
Rainbow Falls is one of several waterfalls in and around Hilo. When the snow melts on Mauna Kea and after a heavy rain, Rainbow Falls gushes and makes the ground shake.
You can always dive off the tower at Coconut Island, a small islet you can swim to or walk over a bridge to get to. It's a favorite place for picnics, fishing and parties.
The 'Imiloa Astronomy Center operated by Univ of Hawaii at Hilo, will teach you everything about the heavens.
'Imiloa also teaches about how the ancient Hawaiians were able to navigate by the stars without the use of modern instruments.
The Hilo Farmers Market is one of the best in the State of Hawaii. Looking for any kind of tropical fruit or vegetable, you can find it here because it's no-doubt grown in Hilo.
The historic Old Downtown Hilo
Old Downtown Hilo is a fun place to walk around for a day. I didn't show you the Big Box stores in Hilo like Walmart, Target, and Home Depot. You can see those in every city. But this historic downtown has the Palace Theater that is almost a century old and still holds events inside. There are awesome restaurants like Cafe Pesto, Ruben's Mexican Food, Jackie Rey's, Ocean Sushi, Two Ladies Kitchen, Pescatore's and many more I'm forgetting. There are bookstores you can spend hours in. Thrift stores and consignment shops. Boutiques with handmade items. All interesting and unique.
This is the way to say…it’s over. I’m done. The end.
But with 900 years of history behind it, Hilo will never end. It will live on in the next generation and the generation after that.
I hope you can sense how much I love my hometown of Hilo. It is a part of me and I of it.
It’s not a perfect place. Nowhere is. We have a growing homeless problem. The prices for gas and food are too high. Many locals can’t afford to buy a home, so we have people from other states moving to Hilo because $400,000 is affordable for them but not for us. So, there are challenges.
But the mana of Hilo, the spirit of Hilo, is maika'i loa. It is very, very good…
This is a silhouette picture of my family sitting on the wall near Hilo Bay just as the sun sets. Most of them don't live in Hilo anymore. But we make sure they come back often, because this is their hometown as much as it is mine. With Mauna Kea in the background and an airplane setting off for its five-hour flight over the ocean, it was a peaceful end to a Hilo day.
About the Author
Stephanie Launiu lives in Hilo and is a Native Hawaiian lifestyle and cultural writer, who holds a degree in Hawaiian Pacific Studies from the University of Hawaii. As a community leader and activist, Ms. Launiu has served on local and regional boards which tackle the critical issues of Pacific Islander health, Native Hawaiian rights, women's rights, and prisoner reentry. As a professional grant writer, she is responsible for obtaining more than $15 million to benefit Hawaiian communities.
Homepage Photo Credit: https://www.hawaiiactivities.com/
Active Volcanoes of Hawaii
By Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
A morning view of the fissure eruption fountaining from the Kilaueua Volcano.
The Hawaiian Islands are at the southeast end of a chain of volcanoes that began to form more than 70 million years ago. Each island is made of one or more volcanoes, which first erupted on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and emerged above sea level only after countless eruptions. Presently, there are six active volcanoes in Hawaii.
Eruption of Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, 1983. (Photo Credit: J.D. Grigg/U.S. Geological Survey)
Kīlauea, the youngest and most active volcano on the Island of Hawai‘i, erupted almost continuously from 1983 to 2018 at Pu‘u‘ō‘ō and other vents along the volcano's East Rift Zone. From 2008 to 2018, there was a lava lake within Halema‘uma‘u crater at the volcano's summit. In 2018, Kīlauea experienced the largest lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse in at least 200 years. An eruption from December 2020 to May 2021 fed a lava lake in Halema‘uma‘u crater at the summit. Since September 29, 2021, an eruption has been ongoing within Halema‘uma‘u crater. About 90 percent of the volcano is covered with lava flows less than 1,100 years in age.
Lava flows down from the summit of Mauna Loa during the 1984 eruption. (Photo Credit: U.S. Geological Survey)
Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth, has erupted 33 times since 1843. The most recent eruption in 1984 lasted 22 days and produced lava flows which reached to within about 7.2 km (4.5 miles) of Hilo, the largest population center on the Island of Hawai‘i. Lava flows less than 4,000 years old cover about 90 percent of the volcano.
Looking down into the throat of Luamakami - reportedly several hundred feet straight down. (Photo Credit: Don Nelsen via Summitpost.org)
Hualālai, the third most active volcano on the Island of Hawai‘i, has erupted three times in the past 1,000 years and eight times in the past 1,500 years. The most recent eruption in 1801 generated a lava flow that reached the ocean and now underlies the Kona International Airport. Lava flows less than 5,000 years old cover about 80 percent of the volcano.
For decades, tiny quakes have rumbled periodically beneath the long-dormant volcano Mauna Kea, researchers report. (Photo Credit: Justin Reznick/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
Mauna Kea, the highest volcano on the Island of Hawai‘i, erupted most recently between about 6,000 and 4,500 years ago from at least seven separate summit-area vents, producing lava flows and cinder cones. Glaciers covered parts of the volcano's summit area during the recent ice ages, the only Hawaiian volcano known to have been glaciated.
Yellow iron oxide covered lava rock on the flank of Loihi submarine volcano. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
Lō‘ihi, the only known active Hawaiian submarine volcano, erupted most recently in 1996 during an earthquake swarm of more than 4,000 events that were recorded by the HVO seismic network. The volcano's summit is about 969 m (3,179 ft) below sea level, located 30 km (22 miles) southeast of the Island of Hawai‘i.
The uppermost edge of Haleakala’s vast volcanic expanse. (Photo Credit: Ryan Siphers)
Haleakalā, the only active volcano on the Island of Maui, erupted most recently between about 600 and 400 years ago. In the past 1,000 years, at least 10 eruptions produced lava flows and tephra cones from the rift zone that crosses the volcano from southwest to east and through Haleakalā Crater.
About Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is responsible for monitoring the six active volcanoes on the Islands of Hawai‘i and Maui. HVO monitors the active volcanoes in Hawaii, assesses their hazards, issues warnings, and advances scientific understanding to reduce impacts of volcanic eruptions.
Homepage Photo Credit: Study Finds
Artist Explores Sometimes Surprising Connections With Nature
During the Tatanka Exhibit at the Mexican Cultural Center in Denver, Garcia commented, "I painted the second release of bison when they were re-introduced to tribal lands of the Indians and Shoshone Indians."
By DONNA BRYSON
DENVER (AP) _ Arturo Garcia rose, bundled up in a puffy green vest and denim blue hoodie, and staked his easel amid the pale golden grasses of Wyoming's Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. It was so windy he had to keep one hand on a canvas the size of a school notebook. It was so cold an onlooker got out of her car to offer him her gloves. He could only wear one, as he needed a bare hand to manipulate the palette knife he uses instead of a brush to apply energetic lines and bold colors. Grass blew into his paint.
The Mexican-born artist based in the Denver area persevered for an hour and a half to record the moment last autumn when 10 American bison, tails whipping like flags, lumbered out of a trailer. The mini stampede and a similar release a year earlier were part of an effort by tribal leaders, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation to restore the majestic mammal to an ecosystem of which it is a key part and to the stewardship of a people who see their own marginalization paralleled in the near annihilation by white settlers of an animal sometimes called buffalo.
``I could not let that opportunity go,'' Garcia said in an interview months later in the kind of space in which he's more used to working: a cozy, well-lit studio at the Denver Art Museum, where he was doing a short residency.
The opportunity came to Garcia after conservationists and Wind River residents took note of his connection to bison. In 2014, he had set himself the task of painting the animals for which Colorado is known. He depicted elk, moose, sheep.
``The bison was the last painting I did in the series. It produced something in me I can't explain,'' said Garcia, whose work has been exhibited in U.S. and Mexican galleries. ``I go on painting binges, portraits, trees, bison. Bison has lasted longer than any other.''
He has seen bison in small herds in preserves near Denver and photographed them in Yellowstone. A quest to learn more about his muse led to conversations with Native Americans. As Garcia gained Eastern Shoshone and other friends, he thought back to his own past.
``All my uncles were skinny, tall, with big foreheads,'' he said. ``People would refer to them as Indians. And they didn't like it.''
``I did the real deal. Plain air, 30 degrees, which felt like 30 below,'' he said of his work in Wyoming. ``It's very challenging painting like that. Especially in the morning when shadows change so fast. The more challenging it got for me, the bigger the smile I got on my face.''
Arturo Garcia, Self-Portrait. (Photo Credit: Arturo Garcia Fine Art)
Garcia began to question that sense of shame. He came to a realization: ``To be Indian is a beautiful thing. To be human is a beautiful thing. I am of the land. I am of the universe.
``The bison has brought me to an encounter that I did not have any idea I was going to have with myself.''
As a wildlife artist with Mexican roots, it was natural for Garcia to take part in the Americas Latino Eco Festival, an annual event in Colorado co-sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation that has since 2012 brought artists, scientists and policy makers together to discuss environmental concerns. The children of NWF Rocky Mountains Regional Executive Director Brian Kurzel took part in a workshop led by Garcia during the 2015 festival. Kurzel said he got more time to speak with Garcia at the festival the following year, when he learned of the artist's interest in bison and shared details of NWF's Wind River project.
The 2.2 million-acre reservation had been part of the bison's habitat before the U.S. government encouraged the extermination of millions of buffalo across the Great Plains and the West in the 1800s. For more than a century, no bison had roamed Wind River.
Garcia's work could inspire others to learn more about bison and ``help create the next generation of advocates,'' Kurzel said.
By the time NWF brought Garcia to Wind River for both the 2016 and 2017 releases, he had already done scores of bison paintings. In addition to creating more of his own work while in Wyoming, the artist led workshops for Native American school children.
Jason Baldes, in charge of the bison project for the Eastern Shoshone, said in an interview that Garcia's paintings capture the animal's power, its connection to Native Americans, and the possibility of healing for both the beast and the people who have been pushed onto reservations.
``And he's such a caring individual,'' Baldes said. Garcia ``wanted to provide young people the opportunity to express their own art.''
After an absence of 130 years, bison were released on Eastern Shoshone tribal land. (Photo Credit: National Wildlife Federation)
Native elders also responded to Garcia. NWF's Kurzel described a Shoshone woman closely observing the painter at work after she gave a traditional blessing at a bison release.
``These two great artists came together,'' Kurzel said. ``They were part of illustrating the connections between nature and people.''
Baldes, the son of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who had worked to rebuild the reservation's game populations, said that returning bison to Wind River is for him and other Shoshone ``a way to reconnect with an animal that was removed from us as a way to kill us off.''
The animal's meat provided his forefathers food, its hide clothing and shelter, its bones utensils.
``The bison, being a gift from the creator, was essential to our spirituality,'' Baldes added.
Garcia's bison works recall cave paintings of the animals on which prehistoric humans relied, too. Garcia depicts bison and dramatic landscapes in cool blues and grays and sunset browns enlivened with primary colors streaked on the animals' bodies that are reminders that nature offers surprises to those who look closely.
``At first I was a little bit taken aback by'' the modernist bright dashes, Baldes said. ``But they grow on you.''
Garcia, meanwhile, was looking forward to visiting Wind River again one day.
On his last visit, the artist said, ``it felt like home.''
Opinion: The Urgency of Diversity Certifications
Now is the time to get certified as an MBE
By Kris Oswold, Vice President of Global Supplier Diversity, UPS
“Accountability needs to increase. Throughout corporations, more people need to understand the value of supplier diversity. More people need to be held accountable for the results and have better visibility into their spend and impact. We have to treat supply diversity like any other organizational corporate function. It must be aligned to the corporate strategy, go through rigorous business planning and goal setting, and experience the same standards we would hold any other function to.” (UPS’s Kris Oswold, pictured above)
As the pandemic’s long term impact rolls across the world and rattles the global business community, and the realities of institutional racism challenge us to make fundamental changes that go far beyond statements of solidarity, we stand at a crossroad. The path behind us brought us to this point, but for hundreds of years it has failed to bring about justice, inclusion, and economic parity.
While searching for a new course, the breadth and depth of our issues expose the insufficiencies of individual plans. Actions will speak louder than words, but how can any one person, or one corporation, make enough of a difference? I do not have all the answers. In many respects, I am still learning to understand the questions. But I know that taking one step invites the next, and then we are moving forward.
While much of the news of late is terrible, a few hopeful events have occurred that could signal meaningful progress for minority owned businesses and leaders. There are signs that the ground has shifted enough to make a new landscape possible.
Recognizing the New Momentum
For businesses seeking to generate revenue and build for the future, corporations can represent growth and potential. Corporate supplier diversity teams can help to open a pathway for that growth, but certification is required. Supplier diversity teams rely on certification agencies to verify that potential diverse suppliers meet established criteria identifying them as diverse-owned and controlled.
In the past, leveraging the supplier diversity network to generate sales often entailed a regular cadence of conferences, networking events, educational programs, and awards banquets. It required time and money, with no guarantee of a return.
Today, however, social distancing required to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have forced corporations and certifying agencies to find alternative ways to connect suppliers to opportunities. With technology enabling new data-driven solutions for matching suppliers, and corporations requiring rapid connectivity with potential suppliers just to meet changing needs, the investment required to leverage supplier diversity networks should decline.
As we witness the power of video conferencing, a question has been raised: Is it really necessary to travel to conferences every year to meet corporate buyers? This is not to say in-person networking is over, but with physical conferences canceled, we are finding new and less expensive ways to connect.
Not only is it becoming less expensive to leverage the supplier diversity network to find growth opportunities, several factors have come into play that have increased the focus on supplier diversity and the value of being certified.
Businesses of all sizes experienced supply chain disruptions during the pandemic. Borders closed, air freight was constrained, many workers became unable to go to work, and manufacturing slowed or stalled.
In UPS’s weekly survey of small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), 54 percent of respondents stated that their single biggest threat to meeting accelerating customer demand was their inability to obtain sufficient inventory from suppliers. As a result, 17 percent plan to “near-source” their supply chains, and 13 percent are diversifying their providers to reduce their risk going forward.
For companies able to produce materials and fill immediate needs, this opened up doors that have previously been closed. This opportunity to build new relationships offered a chance to become more than a temporary solution but possibly a viable provider for the long-term. Diverse-certified companies offer the additional benefit of helping corporations meet supplier diversity goals. This can provide an added advantage that can become a competitive edge.
Corporations are changing their focus from short-term shareowner returns to long- term growth and profitability. Today, close to 200 CEOs, including UPS Chairman and former CEO David Abney, have signed the Business Roundtable’s new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. The CEOs committed to run their corporations for the benefit of all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareowners.
Larry Fink, a leading investor and business influencer, highlighted the link between purpose and profit in his letter to CEOs, calling for corporations to take actions to ensure long-term profitability and not focus so heavily on short-term shareowner returns. His letter focused on the business uncertainty generated by climate change and the critical role corporations play in addressing it, and that theme continued into last year’s World Economic Forum in Davos where the focus was on “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.”
The message is clear, and it signals a change in perspective being driven by investors, employees, and customers who voice their opinions through buying decisions.
With fewer government-driven climate safeguards, mounting challenges posed by urbanization, underfunded education systems, and ongoing systemic racism, it is increasingly clear that corporations must work to ensure the future of their talent pool, customer base and supply chain.
Through a new study UPS conducted with research firm Hootology, we’ve confirmed that customers and employees want to work with companies that are committed to working with diverse suppliers. In fact, the data revealed that 52 percent of respondents want to work for companies that have a supplier diversity program, with that number growing to 73 percent among African-American respondents. The data also uncovered an encouraging discovery: People who are aware that UPS is committed to supplier diversity are 86 percent more likely to use our services.
Diverse Suppliers – Empowered and Effective
Increasingly, companies are recognizing that supplier diversity is a business imperative that delivers real value to the bottom line. It is not just about doing the right thing; it is about smart business.
At United Parcel Service, we know that diverse suppliers are often more innovative, agile and cost-effective. And as we’ve found, they can provide solutions to daunting challenges.
As the pandemic created a huge surge in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), sourcing masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and related supplies became a tremendous challenge. Public and private businesses
of every size were competing for limited supplies, as traditional supply chains were disrupted.
At UPS, new solutions were quickly provided by certified diverse businesses that stepped up to ensure our company could stay in motion, providing urgently needed supplies for our employees so we could continue delivering urgently needed supplies to our customers. To date, nine certified diverse suppliers who had not worked with UPS before have become PPE providers, filling this need with speed and competency. It’s a great start to nine new relationships.
As part of our corporate philanthropy, The UPS Foundation has been providing funding, logistics expertise and in-kind support on relief efforts focused on urgent needs and long-term recovery. We recognize the importance of women- and minority-owned businesses, who invest in local communities and play a critical role in helping to strengthen recovery.
Evolution Takes Shape
As businesses recognize the changing expectations of their role and evolve their supplier diversity efforts, certifying agencies are also adjusting their strategies to address the changing needs that surround us. Necessity is driving innovation, and this should help to lift organizations, such as National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) to new heights, fostering growth in the number of certified minority-owned businesses and member corporations.
Recognizing the value of working with diverse suppliers has been a part of supplier diversity messaging for years, but with the growing attention from customers, investors and employees, and new tools shaking up old routines, we are poised to see real change in how corporations find and engage diverse suppliers. To make meaningful gains in economic inclusion through corporate spending, we must get more diverse businesses certified and accessible through supplier diversity channels.
It is time to take a fresh look at the merits of certification, because together we can create a flywheel effect that broadens economic inclusion and strengthens long-term profitability.
Don’t miss out.
About the Author
Kris Oswold worked at UPS for 28 years before being named Vice President of Global Supplier Diversity. She has been interviewed and relied upon by multiple media outlets, and is well-known throughout the industry. In one writing Ms. Oswold shared, “Simply valuing diversity and inclusion is not enough to drive organizational change — at least not at the pace we want to move. We should celebrate achievements, of course. But rather than claim victory, we should use such progress as fuel for innovation and as confidence to expect even more of ourselves.”
The UPS Supplier Diversity Initiative
The Supplier Diversity Program at UPS represents a business strategy that encourages the company’s supply chain to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. By contracting with diverse suppliers, UPS sees a wealth of benefits including customer loyalty and community economic development. To support small businesses, UPS created free webinars where one can find insights from experts on supply chain strategies, e-commerce solutions, and more.
How to Qualify and Become Certified for Supplier Diversity Initiatives
The National Minority Supplier Development Council and its Regional Affiliate Councils advances business opportunities for certified minority enterprises and connects them to corporate members. The Council’s national membership includes public and privately-owned companies, colleges and universities, and other entities. One requirement for certification is the business (at a minimum) is 51% minority owned, operated and controlled.
The Maple: Chief of All Trees
By Doug George-Kanentiio©
News From Indian Country
When the Creator Sonkweiiateson in Mohawk planted the trees of the world, a decision was made to make Wahta - the Maple - the chief of all trees. Not only did the maple carry the words of humans to his relatives but to that species was given another task. In this part of the world the winter months may be long and cold, the land covered in heavy blankets of snow which makes food difficult to come by and would push the Mohawk people closer to their longhouse fires.
The Creator noticed that the people would become ill for lack of fresh food and their spirits would grow weary as they waited for the spring. He decided that he would speak to the Maple and see if something could be done. It was decided that the maple would allow its sap, its blood, to be taken and made into a drink, one that would replenish the body and lift the soul. So it was done: the Creator showed the people how to take a hollow sumac branch and insert it into a maple tree and then drink the pure syrup which flowed from the tube. The people were happy and thanked the Creator.
As is the way, the Creator had to leave this earth to travel to other worlds and tend to them. He was gone a very long time. One day he returned to see how the people were. This was in the latter days of winter but when he came to the longhouses he did not see plumes of smoke arising from the home fires. He would have normally been welcomed by the dogs of the village but they were missing. When he entered the longhouses there were but cold ashes and above him in the rafters food which had not been eaten. He wondered at this. When he left the longhouse he saw many footprints of humans and dogs leading away from the village towards a forest of maple trees. He followed the tracks until he entered the grove and there saw the people sprawled upon the ground.
It was that they had become immersed in the maple syrup. They had taken the sumac tubes, inserted them into the trees and drank to much that they could hold no more and dropped to the ground.
There are over 100 species of Maple trees, gracing landscapes throughout the world. Trees that can be tapped include: sugar, black, red, silver maple and box elder trees. Sugar Maples yield the most sugar per gallon of sap. (Photo Credit: Tennessee Wholesale Nursery)
Maples are tapped with spiles to collect sap, and the highest concentration of sugar is found in sugar maples. Generally, the ratio of sap to syrup is 40 to 1 (40 gallons of sap yields one gallon of syrup). (Photo Credit: Northern Woodlands)
The Creator saw that even the dogs had drunk of the syrup, copying the behavior of the people, drunk of the syrup and lay there on their backs with their legs pointed to the sky. This was not good. The Creator aroused the people from their stupor and told them that no longer would they be able to drink the syrup right from the tree. They would have to work for it, so he showed them how to take sap, place it into a container and bring it to a near boil until, after many hours, they would have syrup and, after more work, maple sugar. While both maple sap and syrup would remain a great medicine for the people they must not take it for granted.
The people were also shown how to speak to the maples, and then all trees. They would watch carefully for the maple to emerge from its sleep and gather to express their gratitude to Wahta for its great gift before they tapped into the trees. Once they had a harvest of syrup they would gather again and thank the Creator and Wahta for this most wonderful of drinks. Should they do this then the maple would give its lifeblood to the people; should they fail the maples would one day leave the earth.
To this day the Mohawks, the inventors of maple syrup and maple sugar, gather at the longhouse to honour Wahta by giving thanks. On the banks of the Nihahnawa:te (Raquette) and Kaniatarowanenneh (St. Lawrence) rivers you can still hear the Mohawks rise their voices in song and stomp their feet in dance as we celebrate the arrival of spring and the beginning of new life on Iethi:nistenha Ohnontsia-our Earth Mother.
(Cover Photo: Britannica)
Guest Author: We're Having Something Different for Thanksgiving Dinner
(Editor’s Note: This Heritage Month special will be published until January 10.)
Lucy van Pelt of the Peanuts comic strip fame may have said it best when she observed this about Thanksgiving: "Isn't it peculiar, Charlie Brown, how some traditions just slowly fade away?"
And for the sake of us all, perhaps America’s silly myth of the first Thanksgiving as a delightful story where Native nations of the East broke bread with the colonists of the “New World” should fade away.
When contemplating American Indians in America we soon realize that to many Americans, November and Native American Heritage month, culminating right after Thanksgiving, is American Indians’ only reality.
For American Indian people, what is Thanksgiving? Or better yet, what has it become? Or even better, how might we re-imagine it? How might we begin to change the narrative?
For the longest time, the United States has treated Indian religion and creation stories as quaint myths. But that doesn’t stop these same folks from holding on dearly to their own mythical stories of creation. The colonizer’s myth of the first Thanksgiving is of Pilgrims hosting a harvest feast for their Native brethren. Native peoples, however, know the full fabrication of the historical circumstances surrounding this celebration.
But sadly, for America’s original inhabitants, Thanksgiving may be the one day of the year when American Indians cross the minds of most other Americans. Other than at our yearly commemoration of Pilgrims and Indians giving thanks, in early elementary school, in occasional movies, or as tourists in the Southwest, most Americans give about as much thought to – and have as much knowledge of – their country's first inhabitants as they do the people of Outer Mongolia. This needs to change.
While America's non-Indians generally express goodwill and considerable sympathy about past injustices and present poverty afflicting Indians, they largely view the nation's Indians as relics of a past that ended with Custer and Wounded Knee. Or, because of lack of knowledge, they frequently see them through a caricatured and stereotyped lens forged on old Hollywood back lots or racist caricatures emblazoned on sports teams’ jerseys. For the most part, they are oblivious to the vibrancy and difficulties of present-day Indians' lives and culture, or to their social and legal status. A great deal of this uncovering of dominant narratives is being documented by First Nations’ project Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions. This first-of-its-kind project is trying to both understand the narratives that American people hold about Indian people, and then trying to construct a new and better one.
Despite some recent events like the pipeline protests at Standing Rock and the politically correct romanticizing of Indians as spiritual and/or model environmentalists, to most Americans, knowledge and thinking about Indians begin and end with Pocahontas and Sacajawea (good) and half-formed notions about primitive savages and “alcohol-riddled” reservations (bad).
October and November follow eerily similar patterns in my own personal quest for narrative change. It’s at this time of year – book-ended by Columbus Day on one end and Thanksgiving on the other – where I find myself knocking on the door of the principal and teachers of my daughters’ school, to talk about Indians. The good news is, this almost always leads to the opportunity to go to my daughters’ classrooms and chat with their classmates about Indians. And for my daughters, this is an important part in them taking pride in their heritage.
Unfortunately, it seems that I begin each year by having to approach the school’s principal and teachers and educate them about Indians, dispel myths, and fight against the stereotypes they bring to the classroom.
Each year I have to educate a new set educators and make up for the failings of their own history education – that Columbus did not ”discover” America, or that the Pilgrims did not feed the Indians at Thanksgiving. I have repeatedly had to ask teachers and principals to take down caricatures of Indians on bulletin boards – decorations that have been put up every year since a least when I was in elementary school. I have to point out to these same educators that the books in their libraries about Indians, the ones written by non-Indians, with copyright dates in the 1950's, do a horrible job of portraying Indians. I need to help these folks understand that headdresses with turkey feathers, and art projects that include tee-pees, are wrong on so many levels – the least of which are that they do not even represent the Indians the Pilgrims encountered. But worst of all, these horrific stereotypes, ones we would never allow for other minority populations, are in danger of eroding my children’s self-esteem and self-worth for the incredible heritage that they enjoy. And most of all, I need to stop them from teaching theories, such as the “land-bridge theory,” as fact. By their very definition, theories are assumptions based on limited information or knowledge. They are conjecture. And the land bridge is one that every day finds less and less evidence to support it.
At First Nations, a fair amount of our time and energy goes into national initiatives like Reclaiming Native Truth and in building culturally competent leaders. But sadly I, and most Indian parents, spend an equal if not greater amount of energy doing so at home. We send our kids to school, with the hope that they will survive these attempts at cultural indoctrination. And while we may do so with less fear for their physical well-being than our grandparents had when sending their children off to the horrors of Indian boarding schools, our fear for their self-worth and self-esteem is just as great.
So how do we begin to change these narratives? And while I believe that First Nations’ Reclaiming Native Truth project will create an ambitious strategy for narrative change, my hope here today is a person-to-person appeal for individual action.
Here are some things that you can do to help:
- Drop off a copy of Rethinking Columbus at your kids' or grand-kids' school(s).
- Assist school libraries in finding books that portray Indians as living, thriving cultures, not as victims of history. The American Library Association and the Office of Literacy and Outreach Services compiled Selective Bibliography and Guide for “I” is Not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People. Last year First Nations joined efforts with Debbie Reese, Ph.D., to produce an additional resource: the Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List.
- Educate yourself. I would suggest Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s excellent book, All the Real Indians Died Off and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans as a great place to start.
ILTF Releases New Educational Video Game On Indigenous History
St. Paul, Minn. – The Indian Land Tenure Foundation announced the release of a new educational video game that teaches about the impact of allotment acts on Indigenous peoples in the 1890s. Available on PC/MAC, iPads, Android tablets and Chromebooks, When Rivers Were Trails is an accessible, educational 2D adventure game that will help teach young people about an important and often-overlooked period of time in United States history.
When Rivers Were Trails was developed by ILTF in collaboration with Michigan State University’s Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab thanks to support from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. The game follows an Anishinaabeg in the 1890’s who is displaced from Fond du Lac in Minnesota to California due to the impact of allotment acts on Indigenous communities. More than 20 indigenous writers were tapped in the development of When Rivers Were Trails, bringing their valuable experience to the project.
Players are challenged to balance their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being with foods and medicines while making choices about contributing to resistances as well as trading with, fishing with, hunting with, gifting, and honoring the people they meet as they travel through Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and eventually must find a place to call home in California.
The journey can change from game to game as players randomly come across Indigenous people, animals, plants, and run-ins with Indian Agents. Gameplay speaks to sovereignty, nationhood, and being reciprocal with land. When Rivers Were Trails is available for download on PC and Mac, Apple’s AppStore and the Google Play Store.
The game features creative directing by Nichlas Emmons, creative directing and design by Elizabeth LaPensée, art by Weshoyot Alvitre, and music by Supaman and Michael Charette.
Indigenous writers include Weshoyot Alvitre, Li Boyd, Trevino Brings Plenty, Tyrone Cawston, Richard Crowsong, Eve Cuevas, Samuel Jaxin Enemy-Hunter, Lee Francis IV, Carl Gawboy, Elaine Gomez, Ronnie Dean Harris, Tashia Hart, Renee Holt, Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, Adrian Jawort, Kris Knigge, E. M. Knowles, Elizabeth LaPensée, Annette S. Lee, David Gene Lewis, Korii Northrup, Nokomis Paiz, Carl Petersen, Manny Redbear, Travis McKay Roberts, Sheena Louise Roetman, Sara Siestreem, Joel Southall, Jo Tallchief, Allen Turner, and William Wilson, alongside guest writers Toiya K. Finley and Cat Wendt who contribute African American and Chinese experiences.
Statements from the Creators and Program Leadership
Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Michigan State University
Media & Information | Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab
“My greatest hope is for this game to reach classrooms the way that Oregon Trail did, and instead, to say that we as Indigenous people do not exist in relation to settlers, that we are not here merely to trade with them or to guide them on their way Westward. Instead, When Rivers Were Trails is a space for Indigenous voices to express themselves on their own terms.”
Director of Counseling and Continuing Education, Red Lake Nation College (Minnesota)
“I hope this game leads to questions. Questions that will make people turn to their elders and resources to find out more information. I am very proud to have been a part of this experience. It is a great tool to teach history and to teach a true history that is not always something that is easy to tell and understand. It can be painful to learn of what our people went through but it is also a lesson of our resilience and perseverance.”
David G. Lewis, PhD
Anthropologist, Ethnohistorian, Archivist, Educator – Adjunct Professor, Oregon State University School of Language, Culture and Society
“I feel really good about the video game. I have played a few times and need to work on my hunting and fishing skills. Those rabbit and squirrels are very fast. It does take a little technical expertise. Many people who hear about it are excited to play.”
A citizen of the Manitoba Metis Federation. Writer and social worker living in Washington, D.C.
“Writing the scenarios was a very personal process for me. Many of the characters I wrote about are from my own family, including my Grandfather. I took that responsibility seriously, and spent a good chunk of time digging into both my family's history and the history of my ancestors, including the Metis, Lakota, and Ojibwe. Figuring out how to boil down the lives of some of the people who mean the most to me into a few short sentences wasn't easy, and I hope I was able to honor them…I'd love indigenous students to play it and learn a little more about where they come from. I'd also love for non-native people to play it, especially if it leads to them asking questions and starting to interact with the Native American communities still with us.”
Nichlas Emmons, Ph.D
Program Officer, Indian Land Tenure Foundation
“The game was created to make learning more enjoyable and memorable for students learning about the allotment of Native lands, various cultural world-views, and the Indigenous perspectives of history. The game gives a voice to people who have been marginalized. At a time when Native histories are even more condensed, or eradicated throughout the general curriculum around the United States, this video game clicks all the boxes on a more inclusive and appropriate learning tool.”
The Indian Land Tenure Foundation is a national, community-based organization serving American Indian nations and people in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands. ILTF promotes education, increases cultural awareness, creates economic opportunity, and aims to reform the legal and administrative systems that prevent American Indian people from owning and controlling reservation lands.
The mission of the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab at Michigan State University is to design innovative prototypes, techniques, and complete games for entertainment and learning and to advance state of the art knowledge about social and individual effects of digital games.
Native CDFI Network Welcomes New Executive Director
Jackson S. Brossy plans to contribute to the growth and mission of the Native CDFI Network team. "Growing up on the Navajo reservation, I know first-hand the urgent need for access to capital in Native communities. The Network’s membership works hard to get capital to motivated entrepreneurs, and I am happy to support their efforts to build Indian economies,” states Brossy.
The word “excited” is how Native CDFI leadership described the selection of its new Executive Director, Jackson S. Brossy, a member of the Navajo Nation.
Brossy served as head of federal relations for the Navajo Nation government for the past four years. In that time frame he helped advance Navajo policy goals and initiatives, testified before Congress, and built solid relationships with federal policy stakeholders. Prior to working in federal strategy, he worked in the private sector as a management consultant and advised tribes and tribal corporations. He also has worked for the National Congress of American Indians where he specialized in economic development policy. Brossy was raised on the Navajo Nation and graduated from Navajo schools as well as Stanford University and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
“Jackson comes to us with strong organizational leadership and advocacy experience working in the non-profit, private, and tribal government sectors in Indian Country. We are glad to welcome him to our team,” said Pete Upton, Board Chair of the Native CDFI Network, and also the Executive Director of Native360 Loan Fund in Nebraska (pictured below).
“The addition of our new executive director will strengthen the Network’s internal capacity and federal presence, in order to increase representation and promote systemic and viable economic development for Native communities across the country,” said Upton.
ABOUT THE NATIVE CDFI NETWORK
The Native CDFI Network was formed in 2009 to unify Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) serving Native trust land communities, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Currently, over 70 certified Native CDFIs are located in 21 states across the country. As a strong national network, the Native CDFI Network empowers its members to engage their best ideas, connect to one another, and collectively advance policy priorities that foster systemic and sustainable Native community and economic development. The Native CDFI Network’s mission is to be a national voice and advocate that strengthens and promotes Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs), creating access to capital and resources for Native peoples.
Opioid crisis strains foster system as kids pried from homes
By MATT SEDENSKY and MEGHAN HOYER
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The case arrives with all the routine of a traffic citation: A baby boy, just 4 days old and exposed to heroin in his mother's womb, is shuddering through withdrawal in intensive care, his fate now here in a shabby courthouse that hosts a parade of human misery.
The parents nod off as Judge Marilyn Moores explains the legal process, and tests arrive back showing both continue to use heroin. The judge briefly chastises, a grandmother sobs, and by the time the hearing is over, yet another child is left in the arms of strangers because of his parents' addiction.
There is little surprise in any of this, for it's become a persistent presence at Indianapolis' juvenile court. A Monday with a heroin-dependent newborn spills into a Tuesday in which a trembling mother admits breaking her 70-day clean streak with a four-day bender. A Wednesday with two children found in a car beside a mother passed out on pills fades into a Thursday with a teen who found both his mother and grandmother overdosed on heroin.
Across the U.S., soaring use of opioids has forced tens of thousands of children from their homes, creating a generation of kids abandoned by addicted parents, orphaned because of fatal overdoses or torn from fractured families by authorities fearful of leaving them in drug-addled chaos.
"This isn't a trickle. This isn't a wave. It's a tsunami," Moores said of a child welfare system grappling with an unprecedented crush of parental drug cases.
From her first full year on the bench in 2006 through last year, the number of filings for children in need of services more than tripled to 4,649 in Marion County, driven largely by cases involving opioids — a glimpse of a problem that has swept across communities of all sizes.
Behind each of those cases is a child subjected to the realities of life amid addiction — of barren fridges, unwelcome visitors and parents who couldn't be roused awake. Moores is still haunted by the story of a 2-year-old found alone at home with his father's corpse, a needle still poking from his arm. A neighbor was drawn in by the boy's relentless wails.
By Friday, the largest pile of cases on Moores' desk has reached a towering two feet, and she has plodded on in bureaucratic fights to get more judges, more court reporters and more mediators to deal with work in which the despair dwarfs the fleeting moments of hope.
"It seems like there's a whole generation of people disappearing," Moores said.
In Miami, a 10-year-old boy died after the painkiller fentanyl somehow found its way into his system. In Philadelphia, a library once known for its after-school programs is now such a magnet for heroin users that the staff practices overdose drills. From New York to Kentucky, schools stock the overdose antidote naloxone in the nurse's office.
As opioids have thrived, children have suffered. And families are being torn apart, again and again.
New foster care cases involving parents who are using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping, accounting for 92,000 children entering the system in 2016, according to just-released data by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The crisis is so severe — with a 32 percent spike in drug-related cases from 2012 to 2016 — it reversed a trend that had the foster care system shrinking in size over the preceding decade. All told, about 274,000 children entered foster care in the U.S. last year. A total of 437,000 children were in the system as of Sept. 30, 2016.
Though substance abuse has long been an issue for child welfare officials, this is the most prolific wave of children affected by addiction since crack cocaine use surged in the 1980s, and experts said opioid-use is driving the increase.
Among the states with the biggest one-year increases in their foster care population were Georgia, West Virginia and Indiana.
"It's been an overburdening of our system," said Cindy Booth, executive director of Child Advocates of Marion County, which represents kids at the center of drug cases.
The Associated Press delved further into the troubling numbers, examining county-level foster care statistics obtained from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect through the end of 2015. The analysis showed counties with higher levels of opioid prescribing and opioid deaths also had higher shares of foster cases linked to drugs. Last year's county-level statistics are not yet available.
The data show that foster children of drug users are on average about three years younger than others in the system. Indeed, a wave of babies born to opioid-using mothers has led hospitals to add detox programs for pregnant women and save umbilical cords in case they need to pinpoint what drug an infant was exposed to. Volunteers are enlisted to cuddle heroin-dependent babies — often born premature and underweight with a distinctive high-pitched cry and tremors in their arms and legs.
In Indiana, drug-related foster cases shot up more than sixfold between 2000 and 2015. Vanderburgh County, with a population of 179,000, had more children of drug users enter foster care than major cities including Seattle, Miami and Las Vegas. And here in Marion County, cases involving drugs went from about 20 percent of foster children in 2010 to 50 percent five years later.
Stephanie Shene, who started in 2003 as a case manager at the state Department of Child Services, recalled how use of heroin and other opioids went from a virtual non-issue to a constant part of her day. She and her colleagues became increasingly vigilant looking for shaking, fidgety parents or needle marks on their arms, behind ears and between fingers.
Her agency has added more than 1,200 workers in four years and its budget has increased from $793 million to more than $1 billion. Keeping up with the caseload remains a challenge, though, and turnover among case managers is high. Especially maddening is the huge number of parents who can't stay clean long enough to get their kids back or keep them.
Shene remembers one of her first cases, a mother whose four children were taken because of her morphine and heroin addiction. Just 10 months after getting clean and regaining custody, the woman not only had returned to drugs but had given birth to a heroin-dependent baby.
"Stuff like that is hard to look at," she said.
By the time Rachael Stark arrives at her office at 8:45 a.m., she has already been working for hours. At 2:30 a.m., it was a call seeking an emergency placement for a child. Around 4 a.m., a series of texts alerted her that an alarm went off at a foster home and police showed up. Since 8 a.m., she's been furiously tapping away at her phone, juggling 15 foster cases. Now she's splashed with coffee and running late for a 9 o'clock appointment when a state DCS worker calls looking for a foster family for three siblings.
"I've got no one," she reports somberly.
For the past 13 years, Stark has managed cases for The Villages, the largest private foster care and adoption agency in Indiana, which contracts with the state to find children homes. All but a few of her cases involve drugs and of those that do, about half are opioid-related.
The Villages is receiving 30 to 40 percent more referrals than it had been accustomed to, creating a "crisis state," as the agency's president, Sharon Pierce, puts it. Foster parent training sessions, once held monthly, are now weekly; advertising to attract new families has been ramped up. It takes at least three months to recruit, screen and train foster parents, but as soon as they get their state license, the need for help is so great they often receive an immediate call.
"Five or 10 minutes later, that family will have two or three children placed in their home," Pierce said.
The Villages used to see about 60 percent of children return to their birth families. Today it's around half that. So the agency turns to successful foster parents to adopt. The problem is that limits the family's ability to take on another foster child, creating the need for even more foster homes.
"So then we jump back on the treadmill," Pierce said.
The agency has added a few employees, but it's largely up to case managers like Stark to cope with the surging workload. She crisscrosses farm-lined stretches of Grant County, about 90 miles northeast of Indianapolis, driving beside fields of corn and soybeans in the rush to make her next appointment. The county's drug-involved foster caseload grew from nine in 2000 to 48 in 2015.
Stark makes her first stop at the foster home of a 5-year-old girl who answers "hot fudge sundae ice cream" when asked what happens when she meets her therapist; the child's mother is in jail. The second home is a whirl of sailing plastic cups, bouncing rubber balls and kids jumping on furniture, with six children, two of them foster placements, in perpetual motion. The foster mother, Megan Carender, hopes to adopt the children but is prepared if their stay is temporary: "No matter what, this was a place that they were loved and that they were taken care of."
It goes like this all day for Stark, a series of visits and a blur of calls and texts interrupted by sighs and talk of "imperfect solutions." ''We just can't keep up," she said.
Her third stop of the day is emblematic of the cases inundating the system. Two sisters, 9 and 10, landed in foster care because their mother got hooked on painkillers. There was no family to turn to, with their grandmother also addicted. The girls now live on a farm where sheep, cattle and hogs are raised, and they sit in the bed of a pickup, fussing over a carton of fluffy day-old chicks their foster father, Justin Lovell, picked up for them. When he notes, matter-of-factly, it won't be long before the chicks reach a size fit only for "a freezer or a frying pan," the girls' jaws drop in comical unison.
"You're not going to fry them!" one cries.
Their birth mother has already had her parental rights rescinded, and the Lovells hope to adopt. One of the girls had been in four foster homes before arriving here, the other in three. Three siblings were placed elsewhere.
Lovell's wife, Kristen, laments the turmoil the sisters have been through — "so many stops and starts and bumps along the way" — and that "their whole world's changing, and it's changed so many times already." Her husband simply cannot fathom how someone could put drugs before family.
"They had their choice," he said, "and they didn't choose their children."
There is no simple assessment of the impact of all of this on kids. At one extreme, there are infants born healthy who wind up in safe and loving foster homes until their birth parents get clean. At the other are children whose parents' addictions have led to their own, who find themselves hopping from foster family to foster family, or living in a group home or a strange town.
Fear and anxiety can amass, academic performance can plunge, feelings of abandonment can run rampant, and the ability to trust can be strained. Said Maria Cancian, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor whose research focuses on foster care and the effects on children: "When people ask me, 'Is foster care good or bad?' the first thing I say is, 'Compared to what?'"
Shawnee Wilson has found herself on both sides of the system.
Wilson's parents used, and she was 13 when child welfare officials removed her from her home. Now, at 26, she's trying to beat heroin, having already lost custody of two children and given another up at birth.
Her fourth child, a boy named Kingston, was born just over a year ago, and it took a month for doctors to wean him off the heroin Wilson exposed him to. He is in foster care now in Indianapolis, and Wilson is fighting to get him back.
Despite some relapses, she's been clean several months and is convinced she'll be able to keep it up. The clock is ticking. Federal law dictates the loss of parental rights for those whose children have been in foster care for 15 out of the previous 22 months.
Wilson knows how those who don't struggle with addiction view her, and said it's hard to explain what compels people to keep using even when it can cost them their children. When she's been high, she said, "I can't see the consequences, because all I want is to feel that drug. I want that numbness."
Back at juvenile court, the waiting room is brimming with people who may wait hours for their cases to be called. Babies screech. Toddlers whine. Adults emerge from courtrooms wet-eyed.
Moores, the plainspoken 62-year-old who leads this division, sees a familiar expression on the faces that pass through — not just parents, but case managers and attorneys and a parade of others who've seen their work overtaken by pills and powders. She saw the same blank eyes during a National Guard deployment to Afghanistan, as soldiers returned to base.
"They're war-weary," she said.
She counts herself among the battle-scarred, having presided over a court that took 1,270 children from their parents last year, more than triple a decade earlier. Cases roll in to courtrooms that once were classrooms, converted to accommodate snowballing need.
It is 11 p.m. on Friday now and Moores is home on her farm, clad in pajamas and awake in bed. Her phone goes off, a new crisis arrived. DCS has a boy who previously was removed from the home of his opioid-addicted mother, now needing to be taken out of the house of relatives. There are no foster families available, and the county's emergency shelters are full.
It won't be long before the details of the case recede from a memory crowded by a thousand others. Tonight, though, it weighs on her as she tries to drift to sleep.
Sedensky, an AP national writer, reported from Indiana. Data journalist Hoyer reported from Washington.