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Tamara Paltin shows that ‘one person really can make a huge difference’

By Staff | Apr 5, 2012

Tamara Paltin leads the Save Honolua Coalition.

WEST MAUI – Each era presents new challenges and opportunities, and it is vitally important to the health and sustenance of a community to be able to pass the torch of leadership to the next generation.

On the West Side, there are a good number of trailblazers guiding us into the 21st century world, and amongst them are standouts Matthew Erickson, Darryl Fujiwara, Matt Lane, Ekolu Lindsey and Tamara Paltin.

In a series, the Lahaina News will profile these strong personalities and others, beginning with Paltin, “the supergirl/wondah-woman” of the Save Honolua Coalition and more.

Paltin is a Big Island transplant. She moved to Maui in 2001 with a job as a lifeguard.

She has an impressive resume, impossible to capture on just one page.

Paltin graduated from Hilo High with Magna Cum Laude honors in 1995 and Northern Arizona University (Cum Laude) with a B.S. in Mathematics/Education three years later. She is a Ka Ipu Kukui Leadership Fellow, a certified First Responder, Junior Lifeguard Instructor and Water Safety Instructor.

The wife and mother of two (in diapers) is a member of the Hawaii Lifeguard Association, Kahana Canoe Club, E Alu Pu Moving Forward Together Network, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council and Save Honolua Coalition (co-founder and current president).

She is a grant writer, self-proclaimed community activist and full-time ocean safety officer for the County of Maui.

Paltin was named one of The Maui News’ “People Who Made a Difference” in 2007.

Her station is at D.T. Fleming Beach Park, with one of the best views in the world.

Paltin explained why she got impassioned by the Save Honolua movement.

“You just look at Honolua Bay, and you can see the sets coming in. You see all the people coming down after they surfed the Bay and taking a shower at Flemings, or whatever, and they would say, ‘Oh yeah it was barreling, oh so sick!’

“And then,” the SHC leader continued, “you hear like they’re going to develop it at that point (Lipoa). There was so much rumors; nobody knew what was gonna happen.”

In an understatement, she added as matter-of-fact, “I guess, I just got caught up.”

She credits her Kahana Canoe Club coach, Kekai Keahi, as her inspiration.

“She told me something was coming up at Kapalua, development-wise, and I was talking to her about that. She wanted to become involved. From there, she was involved. She took a leadership role with Save Honolua (Coalition), and she is still going. She puts out letters to the editor. She’s always watching for e-mails, posting meetings that is coming up that is either with the state or the county or developers. She’s always on. She’s always watching and letting you know. She took that to heart,” Keahi commented.

Hannah Bernard, fellow SHC director and president of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, described the evolution of the young leader.

She met Paltin at “SHC meetings when Elle (Cochran) was still the ‘prez.’ “

“Tamara was just an interested and motivated activist lifeguard. She was an arrow looking for a target and found it with the Honolua battle,” Bernard recalled.

“She has continued to impress me with her tireless energy and focus on Honolua. She has grown in commitment and maturity and wisdom and experience in all the ways one could hope for one’s own daughter who has found her kuleana in life,” Bernard confided.

“After the big energies subsided around Honolua,” Bernard added, “and several presidents and members went separate ways, she quietly and humbly took the helm of the SHC and continued to steer it steadily forward, all the while living her life, working full-time as a lifeguard and now mother of two.”

John Carty shared the “People Who Made a Difference Award” with Paltin in 2007. He also serves on the SHC executive committee as secretary.

Carty speaks highly of Paltin’s qualities and skills.

“Her ego is out of the picture,” he said.

“One of Tamara’s defining traits is her humility. It is amazing what she accomplishes while not taking credit for it. She understands clearly that the mission is more important than any individual recognition.

“Tamara also has an amazing positivity,” Carty continued, “that I think you see more of in our young leaders. Instead of concentrating on conflicts or disappointing news, she keeps our canoe pointed towards our goal.”

“While the coalition’s work is often political, logistical, economical, and so on she never misses a chance to get her hands in the ‘aina at beach cleanups. You see her at every important meeting across the island and quoted in newspaper articles regarding many important topics,” he commented.

West Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran agreed. “She really has the perseverance and the heart to just keep going.”

“She now has children, and she would like a good future and a legacy to leave behind for them. Pass the torch to them and carry on her vision and mission… I think she is really awesome,” Cochran said.

Although remaining focused on Honolua, Paltin, as hinted by Cochran, has aspirations for a better world outside of the bay.

“For the future (of Hawaii),” Paltin specified, “I would like to see us continue agriculture but away from caffeine (coffee) and sugar and towards taro and bamboo (food and shelter) and possibly industrial hemp (paper/fabric).

“Food sovereignty” is the goal, “with more self-sufficiency and sustainability, with more composting/natural farming and less petroleum-based fertilizers,” she said.

She and her husband, George Vierra, plan to enroll their keiki in the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program.

Culture and history are valuable assets to this responsible couple.

“This is their ancestral home,” she said.

Carty is awestruck by Paltin’s multiple talents and extreme dedication.

“None of us get paid for this work that we do, so sometimes it gets tough to keep it going after all these years.

“For her, being a mom and having a full-time job, I am amazed by how she picks up the slack to do the little things to keep the organization running well.

“Her story shows us that one person really can make a huge difference. Through her selfless dedication, bravery, perseverance, intelligence and dedication to pono, she has gone from concerned citizen volunteer to the leader of one of the premier environmental organizations on the island,” he said.