My Story: J. Kanani Patricio-Young
Growing up as an only child raised by a proud Army-veteran father and an all-around construction handyman, it’s no wonder why my folks say I was a little girl being raised to be tough. Yes, I honor all my dad has taught me, and I am who I am today because of him. But I also grew up in a small town, went to a Title I public school, lived off welfare, was booked multiple times for underage drinking and spent time in foster care as a teen. I don’t know why courts, mediators and parental guardians thought making me take college courses while in high school was a type of discipline, but they did. Because of that, at 16 years old, this “little” Hawaiian girl graduated high school – top of my junior ROTC class – with honors and went on to study law.
At 18, I attained my first degree in administration of justice and discovered a new passion through college courses in world politics and environmental science. I found myself actively campaigning for environmental education, natural resource management, and native Hawaiian rights for our land and seas, as well as the native species of our rivers and forests. I spent countless volunteer hours with the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife and at Haleakalā National Park – all while working three part-time jobs. Wherever there was work available in any construction-related field, I went for it. All until I became pregnant at 19.
Quick realization: I needed to get a “real job” to start being responsible. With the extensive network my mother had in the STEM industry, she helped me get a job at a small environmental consulting firm, where I was trained to take on all hazardous materials consulting, training, lab analysis, and Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments. It was the start of my environmental, health and safety career. Safety wasn’t a value at this company. On a positive note, I did learn every possible way not to collect hazardous material samples, how not to use a ladder or lift correctly, how not to comply with OSHA’s standard on hazardous waste operations and emergency response or Globally Harmonized System placards, etc.
It made it a breeze when I went to work for this company’s No. 1 competitor, who taught me the exact opposite. From there, I went on to complete my second degree, challenged myself, grew through employment with architecture firms and construction and abatement companies, and went back to environmental consulting.
Four years later, I decided to open my own environmental consulting firm. I enjoyed the opportunities to connect, learn, grow and network as a small-business owner. Shortly afterward, COVID-19 arrived, and the switch in gears to offer COVID-related services wasn’t one I was ready to make. I felt called elsewhere. Personal protective equipment was nowhere to be found in Hawaii at the time. Shipments ceased and supplies were scarce, so we decided to shift to a product-supply company. We provided communities with access to any and all PPE when it wasn’t available to everyday families. It kept us going, but didn’t keep us fulfilled.
Flash forward, my husband and I jumped at the opportunity to make the move to the Pacific Northwest. I’m employed once again in EHS/industrial hygiene.
At 29, my grit, tenacity, determination, passion and perseverance are the only things I’d measure as tall (I’m 4 feet, 9 inches tall), but that’s all I’ve needed in this field.
J. Kanani Patricio-Young
Industrial Hygiene Lead/Project Manager
PBS Engineering & Environmental Inc.
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