Keiki experience first-time ocean adventures provided by Big Island nonprofit

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The water was calm. The sky was blue with a handful of clouds and a clear image of the Mauna Loa eruption plume lingering in the distance. But 14-year-old Caitlynn Uribes was scared on Saturday morning when she boarded a boat at Kawaihae harbor.

“I was nervous at first of falling off the boat or animals jumping into the boat,” Caitlynn said.

The teenager had never been on a boat.

She was one of 43 Pāhoa kids taken out on the ocean by For Children to Flourish, a nonprofit organization that provides free ocean adventures for local children, families and those working for and with the next generation.

The children ranged from 5th to 12h grade and are part of a youth group with the Solid Rock Church in Pāhoa.

This was the largest group the nonprofit has taken out on an excursion since it was founded a year ago. Kelsey Waliszewski, owner of the Da Whale Boat and founder of For Children to Flourish, said the purpose of the excursions is to get keiki smiling while planting messages of sustaining the ocean.


Waliszewski and Da Whale Boat have done 38 trips with 325 guests since April.

Usually, the excursions include at least six kids, one to two adults, and the crew. Saturday was the first time other boating companies helped take keiki out on the water, with a fleet of five boats giving 43 kids an experience they will never forget.

“I saw flying fish and a dolphin did a back flip,” Caitlynn said excitedly.

Her nervousness had quickly disappeared once the boat started moving over the near-glassy water. She sat at the bow enjoying the wind blowing through her hair.

All the kids were a flurry of excitement as they pointed and screamed at a pod of dolphins off Kawaihae south boating ramp.


“A lot of the kids haven’t been out on their own ocean,” Waliskewski said. “Taking them out they learn what we’re protecting. It’s important to connect them to the ocean. The ocean is our future. If we can protect it, it will keep us alive.”

Doug Vera Cruz, president of the Kona paddling club Kai ‘Opua, also came out to help Waliszewski provide an ocean experience for the kids. Vera Cruz talked about safety on the boat and helped gear them for snorkeling.

“We’re trying to educate keiki on marine life and how to enjoy it for generations to come,” Vera Cruz said. “Education and awareness is the focus.”

In her heart, Waliszewski said she hopes every kid walks away from this adventure knowing they’re loved, valued and have a purpose on this planet.

Saturday’s fleet also included Pua the sailboat, Adventure X Boat Tours and two vessels from Captain Chad Charters provided.


Chad Barga, owner of Captain Chad’s, gave up paying charters to help Waliszewski take more children out on the water. Barga said it was cool to see their reaction to the sea life.

“It rekindles the love I have for my job,” he said. “The ocean brings joy to people.”

With money for the program raised from investors, Da Whale Boat is able to pay for fuel and crew. Each kids’ excursion costs about $500.

Waliszewski hopes the nonprofit can continue to grow. She said Pua is looking to join in helping provide tours to the keiki.

The seeds of ocean love were successfully planted in many of the kids. Thirteen-year-old Daniele McDonald said she hopes someday to become a boat captain. Thirteen-year-old Chloe Schaefle learned about coral and how dropping an anchor on it can cause damage.

Allison Reynolds, who oversees the group of kids from Solid Rock Church, said organizations like For Children to Flourish make the children feel valued and seen.

“I’m hoping [the experience] makes them feel empowered,” she said.

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