Our goal is to create a welcoming environment for people to connect and learn from each other, explore the world around them, and share ideas for improving our common experience.
Each week we would like to introduce you to members of our community of change makers and engaged, energized, curious people.
Mehana Blaich Vaughan
Raised on Kauai, in Kalihiwai, Mehana Blaich Vaughan is known as much for her work helping local and native Hawaiian families continue to live in a community coveted by the world’s most wealthy, as for her gracious, determined nature. Highly regarded around the state as an expert on community-led natural resource management, she is a natural teacher, community leader, ‘aina protector, devoted friend and mother.
A tenured professor at the University of Hawai’i, Mehana integrates interdisciplinary perspectives on natural resource issues with community based management solutions. Her courses (including the first college credit course on the North Shore of Kaua’i.) teach community-based natural resource management informed by traditional ecological knowledge.
In her community she is active with Kia’i Kāhili and Nā Kia’i o Nihokū, a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, private landowners and the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust to steward and restore knowledge and cultural history of the Kahili area. She is an active member of the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, serving on the Kauai Island Council since 2011.
In 2017 she teamed up with Dominque Leu Cordy, Tina Aiu and Jennifer Luck to form Kīpuka Kuleana, a nonprofit dedicated to perpetuating kuleana and ahupua‘a-based natural resource management and connection to place through protection of cultural landscapes and family lands.
A strong believer in the importance of ‘aina based education, Mehana worked closely with Waipā and Kawaikini Hawaiian Language immersion Charter School to create curriculum focused on knowledge of place names, mo’olelo (stories), ahupua’a boundaries, lessons from Kupuna and ecosystem understanding and management. She is very active in statewide efforts to develop policy to support community/government partnerships for coastal management in Hawaii.
Her beautiful book, Kaiāulu offers a glimpse of the deep ancestral and community ties and aloha for the north east coast of Kaua’i. Sharing stories of how area ‘ohana have cared for this place for generations, the book is a call to action to all who call this place home. It is available for sale at Kipukakuleana.org, and all proceeds benefit this non-profit organization.
All of this, and the most loving devoted patient mother, one who always has time to sit and listen to kupuna share mo’olelo, the last at a lū’au sharing hula, mele and helping bag leftovers to share with the community who missed the ‘ono food. Mehana is filled with aloha and truly a gift to our community.
Christina Zimmerman founded Homeschool Now five years ago with five children in a bus in Hāe’na. Now a non-profit school serving 100 students, grades k-8, her intuition that there was a need for an alternative style of education has proven true and Homeschool Now’s demand fluidly continues to grow
With a masters in education, Zimmerman was a valued teacher in the public schools on the North Shore of Kaua’i. As she worked with her students it was clear that the curriculum and style did not meet the needs of each child and those were “stuck in the system” with little progress. With a strong belief that individualized instruction and the ability to work at their own pace was essential to developing empowered learners, she moved to create an alternative option.
Homeschool Now does meet the Common Core standards required of each student to move through grade levels, but the result comes from a creative approach to education including project based learning, and instruction relevant to each student’s individual interest and a large focus on outdoor education. Along with weekly field trips and classes being held outdoors whenever possible, the school partners with organizations such as The Surfrider Foundation and the Kaua’i Sailing Association to shape curriculum and further the goal of creating a next generation of stewards of the land.
Homeschool Now provides quality education while preserving the adventure and wonder of childhood for children through this multidisciplinary approach to education. As if that is not enough, Zimmerman recently opened the Makana Learning Center in Wainiha offering free tutoring to any students needing extra support during this time. A true gem in our community, we are grateful for the work and dedication to our Keiki!
Uncle Jack Gushiken
Uncle Jack Gushiken has been managing the water resources and irrigation systems for the area where Common Ground is located for more than 60 years. He previously managed the irrigation systems for Kilauea Sugar Plantation and Guava Kai Plantation. When Kilauea Sugar closed in 1971 C. Brewer & Co sent Jack to Iraq to install and oversee irrigation systems there. He eventually returned to Kauai where he ran irrigation for the Guava Kai Plantation. In addition to his work managing irrigation systems around the world Uncle Jack is a Kilauea historian and record holding fisherman.
As a lifeguard for 5 years, Makana Weiss felt the beauty of Kaua’i was emphasized with each day spent at the beach and every conversation he had with the visitors who were traveling to this place he felt so fortunate to call home. Using only his iphone 4s in the beginning he began to capture photo and video content of Kaua'i as a daily hobby. As his interest grew, so did a small rolodex of clients and following an injury during a jetski rescue, he opted to make photography a full time career.
Makana’s gifts do not end with this knack for capturing Kauai’s alluring beauty through his lens. With Makana Weiss Media, his love and raw talent of shooting and editing video, music production as well as photography expands his media company to a full service studio also offering digital content and website creation and advertisement curation.
Instrumental in the launch of the media campaign for www.adoptnapali.com, he continues to support this organization with his gifts and time to the non profit devoted to keeping this treasured and highly trafficked coast line clean.
We feel lucky to have Makana on our team of contributors and look forward to many creative days ahead!
Born and raised here on Kaua’i, Mike Coots lost his lower right leg to a tiger shark at the age of 18 while bodyboarding on the West Side of the Island on what would have been an average early morning session with his competitive team. What would seem traumatic to most, he sees as a gift. Temporarily side lined from surfing (he was back in the water the first day his doctor allowed), he found photography. A raw talent and clear knack for ocean shots (he was quickly regarded highly in a very competitive field) lead him to the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography.
It was soon after he returned to Hawai’i he was contacted by another shark survivor and amputee about the importance of shark conservation and if we would be open to learning more...and he did. Now, he is a staunch advocate for shark preservation, a student of their world wide conservation, he uses his beautiful photography to share a softer side of this prehistoric creature in his many adventures in Hawai’i and beyond. His deep love and respect for this animal and the importance of sharks in maintaining a balance in the oceans ecosystem drives his conservation work.. His story has been shared by CBS, TIme Magazine, PBS, National Geographic to name just a few, yet Mike continues to be one of the most humble, ever learning, and eternally grateful people in our community.
An accomplished surfer, he recently began competition as a Challenged Athlete in both surfing and triathlons, which has enhanced the opportunity to mentor and inspire other amputees and adaptive athletes both in and out of the water. “It was worth losing a limb just for that alone. And to help other amputees and kids that are dealing with limb loss, I feel really blessed. If you want to do something, don’t worry about what people tell you. If you think you can do it, just do it.”
Jason Orbe Smith
Jason Orbe-Smith is the founder of Orbe Architecture, a growing creative design practice and global architecture studio based in Kauai, where Jason was born and raised.
Orbe Architecture works in collaboration with homeowners, communities, universities, nonproﬁts, and NGO’s, notably completing design projects in Ghana, Tanzania, Thailand, and Hawaii. Jason creates beautiful spaces and inspiring buildings for people and communities. Outside of the design studio, he and his wife explore the world with their one year old son.
John has practiced organic, ecological agriculture on Kauai for 23 years. He founded Kauai Authentic Farms in 2001, home to the Center for Regenerative Agriculture. He has taught permaculture and sustainable agriculture in Hawaii, the US mainland and in Europe. He is now Common Ground's farm manager and an started to plant an innovative agroforest on the campus.
Karolyn started her organization Nourish Kauai in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, as a way to deliver food to Kauai's high risk populations. Initially funded through private donations and CARES Act funds Nourish Kauai now provides more than 700 meals per week to kupuna and the homeless. The meals are sourced locally from farms and value-add producers and provide an essential service to those most impacted by the pandemic. Learn more about her work they do please visit, https://www.nourishkauai.org/.
Cross Roads pastures was founded by Molly Miller, Jakob Wareham and James Edwards. The partners met on Kaua’i and bonded over their common upbringing, all three were raised in farm country on properties with long, dirt driveways. There are a few of us raised in Kilauea who understand this! Right away they realized they could not find the same quality of chicken they were raised with, contrary to the big box pesticide, hormone filled chickens, and decided to create an alternative.
They started with a few for themselves, focusing mainly on eggs to feed their household and broiler chickens. Moving the flock around their garden they realized the benefits these pasture raised chickens had on their soil in addition to being a sustainable food source.
Grateful for the success and demand for the pasture raised chickens they provide, they have hope to help create a more regenerative food chain on the Island of Kaua’i. The partners recently expanded their business to include egg birds which will provide farm fresh eggs to their customers.
Common Ground is proud to partner with the Crossroads team, as one of the “pastures” that house their birds we love having their happy chickens roam in their large movable coop, regularly rotated around our campus improving our soil, while they improve Kaua’s food chain!