Alumni Spotlight: Russ Livingston


Born in Philadelphia, Russ has lived on Cape Cod, in Wisconsin, and in California. He started volunteer travel with Katrina (the hurricane, not the girl) and has been at it as finances allow since, as he is retired from teaching and school administration.

Why did you choose this program?

As a dedicated IVHQ fan (my 7th trip with IVHQ, 12th overall), and wishing to get my 17-year-old fog-walker grandson involved, I chose Hawaii because it is close, does not require a passport, is completely safe, and offers great recreation and historical opportunities as well as a unique program approach.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

IVHQ and Sustainable Coastlines people are great communicators and are quick to answer any type of question we may ask. They are tremendously helpful, even to the extent that Katie, the house/program manager, arranged for us to borrow fishing poles. Their basic "get you ready" approach is very reassuring and helpful: most professional!

They pretty much could take care of anything, though I did get airline tickets on my own.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Take a few weeks to get your feet toughened up somewhat--lots of beach and flip-flop opportunities. Be prepared to work with vigor at unique, fun, and satisfying tasks. Bring band-aids.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Each day we wake up to doves and other birds carrying on, wander out to Katie playing happy island music and setting up breakfast, and are out to the van by 8 A.M.

Off we go to 1) the beach, 2) the ocean fishpond, 3) the farm/wetlands in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains, 4) the headwaters and mountain.

We finish work around 1:00 P.M. and are provided with an excellent lunch by Katie, either at the work site or at a nearby local-type restaurant.

Then, depending on each person's plans for the afternoon, Katie takes us or guides us to: 1) someplace cool, fun, relaxing, exciting, etc., 2) home to shower and make more plans, 3) home to nap and recover, 4) someplace to hike or WHATEVER. The possibilities are endless, and Katie knows all.

Dinner is on your own and is usually leftovers from lunch, stuff from the grocery, dinner out, whatever.

Uber, Lyft, and the island-wide buses are readily available at about any time.

I went to bed around 8 o'clock but the younger volunteers (all the rest of them) either went out and galavanted about somewhere or watched a movie on the huge TV screen. Good companionship.

Weekends are to do whatever you want. Usually, everyone goes somewhere. We did Pearl Harbor/Honolulu and the North Shore. There are malls. Again, the possibilities are endless.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

On my first trips I was stressed about the travel arrangements: connecting flights, airport pickups, long bus trips, local transfers without knowing the local language and dialects (no matter what words your learn ahead of time, they are sure to use a different dialect), scary local bad guys, etc.

It may have been Mark Twain who said something like, "My life has been full of terrible events, most of which did not happen." Yeah, but there will be delayed flights, long layovers, being leered at (especially blond girls, not me), and the rare theft, uncomfortable seats, and situations, dire rear: all part of The Great Adventure!

In Hawaii, there are no worries, bro. It's like home except for a lot prettier and the people are nicer.

The best adventures are usually those which were the most uncomfortable at the time. Usually, things work out just fine, and IVHQ gives you all the information you will need. Be cool.

In Hawaii, there are no worries, bro. It's like home, except a lot prettier and the people are nicer.

Why spend the program fee for the Hawaii trip when you could go somewhere else for less money? Why is it as expensive as it is?

Long answer -- you get what you pay for.

On some programs, I found breakfast to be white bread or white rice gruel. One place we did get one egg a week. Lunch can be white rice and black beans ANYWHERE you go. Dinner too, with a veggie. Plain pasta is popular. Once I found a small bone in my pasta -- saved that baby for later! Corn tortillas and beans.

OK -- it's not usually that bad and there are usually places you can buy stuff. Nutella is a biggy. The food in Hawaii is GREAT. Anything you want for brekkie. Even a luau one day for lunch served by Katie. Won't go into long detail but trust me; it's the best program food anywhere I've been.

I've slept in hammocks, on a cement slab, and usually on thin mattresses on boards across a wire base in huts, in hostels, etc., with up to 10 people in a room. All OK, no real problems, but the modern Hawaii house, in a safe and attractive neighborhood, has real beds with box springs, and fans in each room, and no more than 2-4 in a room. Nice.

A great advantage of the Hawaii program is it's great organization and interesting historical set-up. Every IVHQ program has been wonderful and exciting! Hawaii is unique in its sea-to-mountain inclusion, the entire Ahupua'a, the historical area in which the First People lived and worked. You work in all four areas and really feel a part of Hawaiian history (especially when up to your heiney in a taro patch).

Also, of course, you are in HAWAII and there are a myriad of things to do each afternoon that are generally not available at all in the remote jungles of Whereverland.

With many programs, as great as they are, there is not really anywhere to go after the work day. That's usually OK because you are in such a new and interesting place, but sometimes it's kind of boring. Take books. In Hawaii there is always someplace close or relatively close to go. The program and trip is a truly GREAT volunteer experience and can be a Hawaiian vacation after 1:00 pm.

Hawaii is expensive, especially housing and rent, which the program pays for the house. It costs a great deal more to run the program in Hawaii than someplace like the Phillippines, and they try to break even.

It was a life-changing experience for my grandson who as his mother said, went to Hawaii as a boy and came back a man. Dude.

Is it worth the money for the experience? In my opinion: OH yeah. The experience is unlike any other in the world. Sweet.