Published in The Maui News – Saturday, July 15, 2017

By Sarah Ruppenthal

If you bump into Yvonne Aileen at the beach, there’s a good chance she’ll be carrying one of two things: a large trash bag or a five-gallon plastic bucket. Either way, litter doesn’t stand a chance when Aileen, the broker-owner of Aloha Spirit Realty and founder of the “Maui Beach Clean-Up” meet-up group, is around. “Today and yesterday on my walks to my neighborhood beach, I cleaned up—I really can’t help myself,” she said. “I’ve found that five-gallon buckets work great because they’re sturdier and easier to control than bags when it’s windy. I have found them on the side of the road and pulled over to collect them. I’ve joked that I need a bumper sticker that reads ‘will brake for buckets.’”

Aileen learned about the impact of litter at an early age. “My father used to work for the Army Corps of Engineers in Oregon and part of his responsibility was caring for the Cottage Grove Dam,” she explained. “We used to accompany him when he’d visit the dam and park area. He always picked up litter when he was there and had us, my sister, my brothers and I, help. He taught us to think of litter as the eighth deadly sin.”

Aileen moved from Oregon to Maui two years ago. Not long after she arrived, she signed up to volunteer for a Malama Maui Nui beach cleanup at Kahului Harbor. Malama Maui Nui is a nonprofit organization, formerly known as the Community Work Day Program, that engages the community in litter prevention, recycling and beautification efforts across Maui County. “It felt so gratifying to be able to make a difference,” Aileen said. Buoyed by inspiration, she decided to start her own beach cleanup meet-up group last summer.

Now 93 members strong, the meet-up group periodically convenes to clean several Maui beaches and beach parks, including Kahului Harbor, McGregor Point Lighthouse, Sugar Beach and Kalepolepo Beach Park. “We often do Kahului Harbor, because it gets so trashed. On two occasions, I’ve had visitors who’ve come to the harbor cleanup and they’ve been appalled at how trashed it is. They thought it was people littering, but I explain that it just gets washed in, mostly plastic and microplastic,” Aileen said. “I also pick at beaches when I hear from neighbors or friends that there’s a problem. Members can always suggest locations, too.”

For Aileen, facilitating the cleanups is intensely rewarding, chiefly because she is creating opportunities for others to feel a profound sense of accomplishment. “Claudia, a lady who was here visiting and joined us for a harbor cleanup, said, ‘It’s actually very healing,’ and I’d never thought about that before, but she was right,” Aileen said. “The first time I attended a Malama Maui Nui cleanup at Kahului Harbor, you couldn’t place your open hand down on the beach without it covering some litter. By the time we’d finished, only 90 minutes later, it was so much better.”

Aileen urges others to do what they can to put a stop to littering. “We are so blessed to live on Maui, surrounded by the ocean, but that blessing comes with a responsibility for stewardship. This is our ‘aina—it’s a reciprocal relationship and we always get back far more than we give,” she said. “Sociological experiments show that when people see litter, they’re more likely to litter in the same location. If you pick up that piece of trash, you’re sending a message that people here care and you’re preventing future litter.”

At the end of the day, Aileen said, one person can make a big difference. “If something comes into your life that makes you go, ‘Oh, someone should do something about that,’ whether it’s litter, or injustice or whatever—remember you’re someone,” she said. “There is always something we can do to make the world better.”

Aileen encourages new members to join the meet-up group. To join, register at www.meetup.com and search for “Maui Beach Clean-Up.” To learn more about Malama Maui Nui or to sign up for the upcoming Get the Drift and Bag It cleanup campaign, which runs from Sept. 16 through Oct. 14 at sites throughout Maui County, call 877-2524, email volunteer@cwdhawaii.org or visit www.malamamauinui.org.

Do you know a Realtors Association of Maui member who should be recognized for their contributions to the community? If so, send your story idea to Sarah Ruppenthal at missruppenthal@gmail.com.

Photo caption:

Realtors Association of Maui member and Maui Beach Clean-Up founder Yvonne Aileen is on an anti-litter crusade that’s picking up more than garbage—it’s picking up momentum, too.

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