Meet the NPF Team: Kyle Funakoshi

A Q&A with an NPF Regional Philanthropy Director
Kyle Funakoshi & Alanna SobelMeet the NPF Team
Kyle Funakoshi and his daughter Penelope at Mount Rainier National Park
Kyle Funakoshi and his daughter Penelope at Mount Rainier National Park

Kyle Funakoshi can vividly recall the first time he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out toward the Washington Monument.  

He was in high school and it was a life changing experience for him.  

In that moment, he realized he wanted to dedicate his life and career to community service.

Driven by the notion of creating "Beloved Community," which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularized, Kyle believes that national parks are one of the most powerful ways to build human solidarity.

As a National Park Foundation regional philanthropy director, mostly focusing on donors who live in the Northwest and Mountain West regions of the United States, Kyle brings this dedication, community-focused mindset, and heartfelt commitment to the greater good to every one of his conversations and interactions. He takes great care and pride in helping people find meaningful ways they can make a positive difference through national parks.  

We hope you will enjoy getting to know Kyle and perhaps be inspired to share your own national park stories with us in the comments below.

What are Some of Your Favorite National Park Memories? 

Vintage photograph of Kyle Funakoshi and family visiting Yellowstone National Park

Kyle and his family at Yellowstone National Park in 1984

Kyle Funakoshi

As a kid, it was a treat to get out of the family station wagon after long road trips to see Old Faithful erupt, watch a moose cross the road at Rocky Mountain National Park, or go down into the depths of Carlsbad Caverns

My family went to national park sites as they were the most affordable and accessible vacation options that we had, and my fondest childhood memories always took place during these trips.   

Kyle and classmate Tasha Jones pose for a photo during the Upward Bound experience in Washington, D.C.

Kyle and classmate Tasha Jones during the Upward Bound experience in Washington, D.C. in 1991

Kyle Funakoshi

My favorite park memory takes me back to being in high school in Northern Colorado. I was selected to be part of a program called Upward Bound and traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with members of Congress about the importance of higher education for low-income communities.

It was on that trip that I stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out toward the Washington Monument for the first time. That is my favorite national park moment.  

I felt inspired seeing the monuments and standing in the footsteps of people that worked hard and sacrified to make a great impact on our society. In that moment, I realized I wanted to make a difference too. It was at that point that I dedicated my life and career to community service.

What Do You Find Inspiring About National Parks?

For many years, I only saw national parks as places to go for beauty and solace – but have recently taken inspiration in finding unique American stories that connect with my identity.   

For example, I recently learned about George Masa – a photographer who captured beautiful images of the Great Smoky Mountains which helped the site to become a national park.

Vintage photograph of Kyle Funakoshi and family visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Kyle and his family at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in 1986

Kyle Funakoshi

The National Park Foundation also recently funded a grant to restore Jun Fujita’s cabin in Voyageurs National Park. Fujita was an American photojournalist who documented many famous (and sometimes infamous) moments in the 1920s and 30s in the Midwest and also a talented poet.  

I love these stories because I can see my Asian American ancestry reflected in American history.   

However, the beauty of these stories is that they are not just luminaries for the Japanese or Asian community. I hope Americans of all backgrounds can appreciate Asian Americans' contributions to our society.   

I equally appreciate places like Fredrick Douglass National Historic Site, Rosie the Riveter / WWII Homefront National Historical Park, and the Lincoln Memorial because those stories are also my stories.  

When Americans acknowledge and respect our multifaceted and multicultural heritage, I think the best aspects of what can make us a strong society unfold and we have a better blueprint to inspire our future.

What Projects Do You Normally Work on at NPF? 

As an NPF regional philanthropy director, I work with donors to find meaningful ways they can make a difference. The projects have varied – from uncovering untold pieces of history through the Women in Parks initiative, to supporting wildlife conservation, to connecting children to parks through NPF’s Open OutDoors for Kids program, or helping to preserve and protect a piece of land at a park site. 

My goal is to help the people I work with feel a deep connection to this work, and to understand the gravity of how they made an impact.

What Drives You to Do This Work?

Kyle Funakoshi stands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out toward the Washington Monument

Kyle stands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 2018, reliving that special moment from his childhood, looking out toward the Washington Monument

Kyle Funakoshi

I’m driven by the idea of creating a “Beloved Community,” the concept popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and I believe national parks are one of our greatest tools for creating a community that is rooted in love and respects and values people for what they bring to the table. 

National parks are places that represent our country and tell our story; geological and historical. I take great joy in helping people find the moment they feel awestruck by beauty, by the weight of history, and by wonder. I believe that the moment that people are pulled by that common connection and sense of pride and responsibility, they begin contributing to our beloved community in positive ways. I want everyone to have access to that transcendent moment – to have a shared connection with this history and land.

What is One of Your Favorite Parts of Working for NPF and What is One of the Biggest Challenges? 

Kyle with NPF donor Tavan Pechet at Olympic National Park

Kyle with NPF donor Tavan Pechet at Olympic National Park

Kyle Funakoshi

I like going to national park sites with donors. It is especially gratifying when they see what was enabled through their support. I enjoy working with people who want to bring good into the world. 

The biggest challenge is making sure that our parks stay relevant for all Americans. National parks prosper because of our love for them. However, it is hard to love something when you don’t see yourself in it. We must find ways to reflect the myriad people who make up this nation - our next generation of stakeholders who will bring the national park legacy forward.

If You Could Create a Park Around a Current or Historical Figure or Moment, What Would It Be?

I would like to see a monument that is a warehouse for folk and community history in the United States.

This monument to our people would be a collection of people’s oral histories, and a repository for recordings, videos, photos, and journals – a digital time capsule. 

A curator and interpretive rangers would create interactive experiences, a la Ken Burns-style talking heads, with stories during historically significant anniversaries such as the Challenger disaster, 9/11, and COVID-19 from different people’s perspectives.

My goal is to help the people I work with feel a deep connection to this work, and to understand the gravity of how they made an impact.

This monument would also have a place where you can take a family photo that would be projected on a wall and digitally archived, so that generations from now family members may go to that same spot, access the photo, and take a picture where their ancestors stood – becoming a piece of living history.

As a third generation Japanese American who grew up in rural Colorado in the 1980s, I was hungry for anything that reflected my role and my place in America, and I believe that this would be a way that everyone can literally see themselves reflected in an inspirational space.

We hope you enjoyed this opportunity to get to know Kyle and his dedication to national parks and community service. We invite you to share your own personal national park story in the comments below and join the growing community of national park champions that Kyle is proud to work with every day.  

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