The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit will rely on more than 1,000 volunteers who want to show off Oahu to visiting delegations, meet people from different cultures and help Hawaii put on its best face for what might be the only gathering of its kind in their lifetimes.
The volunteers include working professionals who are taking time off from their jobs, high school teenagers who will have to make up for missed class assignments and lots of senior citizens eager to demonstrate Hawaii’s famous aloha spirit.
Greg Chilson, president of the Hawaii chapter of the American Society for Training & Development, trained about 100 APEC volunteers during a four-hour course in Hawaii hospitality and was impressed by the people who will be greeting the 21 APEC delegations and working behind the scenes.
"Overwhelmingly the group of volunteers I worked with were upscale, highly educated MBAs, Ph.D.s, retired company owners and a lot of older folks who can volunteer for a week," Chilson said. "The responses we got back were that they volunteered because they believe this APEC will be good for Hawaii, will put us on the national stage and give us great exposure. It will pay dividends in terms of more tourism and more business coming to Hawaii. They saw the big picture. It wasn’t about personal gain. It was about what’s going to benefit the state."
The response to a plea for APEC volunteers was overwhelming, with more than 2,200 people applying for 1,000 positions, said Gregg Yamanaka, president and chief executive officer of the APEC Hawaii Host Committee.
"Unfortunately, this meant that some of the applicants will not be able to participate during APEC Leaders’ Week," Yamanaka said.
During APEC Leaders’ Week, volunteers will work as "directional guides, transportation escorts and informational assistants" at various location including Honolulu Airport, the Hawai‘i Convention Center and Oahu hotels, APEC officials said.
THE VOLUNTEERS had to attend training sessions on hospitality, customer service and Hawaiian culture, and pledged to work a minimum of five days.
"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. APEC comes back to the U.S. only every 21 years and it’s not guaranteed that it’ll ever come back to Hawaii. So it’s now or never."
Rachel Kim, a 15-year-old sophomore at Waipahu High School and her friend, Erin Quevedo, a 16-year-old junior, are among the youngest of the APEC volunteers and will be assigned to the convention center.
The girls volunteered, in part, because they don’t know whether Hawaii will ever have the chance to host an APEC conference again.
"I hope to gain experience and be able to say that I was part of something like this," Quevedo said. "It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. APEC comes back to the U.S. only every 21 years and it’s not guaranteed that it’ll ever come back to Hawaii. So it’s now or never."
Both girls play percussion in Waipahu High School’s band and will be able to perform at the annual fall pops concert on Nov. 5.
"Then we wake up bright and early and head right down to APEC," Quevedo said.
The week they’ll spend volunteering will require lots of extra work to make up for missed class assignments.
"Fortunately, I won’t miss my concert but it will be stressful and I am going to struggle in some subjects," Kim said. "But this is a big opportunity for me. I hope to gain experience and this is going to look really good on my resume."
The girls are among 30 Waipahu High students and a couple dozen more from Mckinley High School who will be volunteering for APEC, said Todd Nakayama, a teacher at Waipahu who runs the school’s hospitality and tourism academy.
The students will spend four days working "all day, every day from 7 to 7," Nakayama said. "It’ll be a lot of work."
Kris Choo, a 35-year-old Realtor, and her husband, Edward, a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard, plan to take time off from their jobs to volunteer for APEC "because we like to help," Kris said.
Choo likely will be put to work in APEC’s "gift department," although she doesn’t know in what capacity. Edward most likely will be involved in some form of APEC security, Kris said.
She was born in Seoul and would love to use her Korean language skills at APEC. But even if she doesn’t have much involvement with Korean speakers, Kris is eager to be a part of the conference.
"I like to meet new people and learn about different cultures," she said. "The main thing is that I like to help people."
Like other volunteers, Mary Hee Wai, a 44-year-old financial planning analyst for the Queen’s Medical Center, wants to be part of an event she may never see again in Hawaii.
She was born and raised in Hong Kong and graduated in June from Hawaii Pacific University with a master’s degree in business administration.
"It is a good networking opportunity for me," Wai said. "But I always want to do some kind of volunteering work and this is a good thing for Hawaii."