“Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty, I submit, for the consideration of the Congress and the country, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. . . .
“Through a new Community Action program we intend to strike at poverty at its source — in the streets of our cities and on the farms of our countryside, among the very young and the impoverished old.”
So said President Lyndon B. Johnson as he launched what became known as the war on poverty.
It’s a war that still needs to be fought. Poverty in the richest country in the history of the world is a fact of life. When we look at what is happening in our economy it appears that the prosperity we, as Americans, have come to take for granted is slipping beyond our grasp.
Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. has been a soldier in this war since 1965, touching virtually everyone in Maui County, either directly with its wide array of services or indirectly by providing services for a family member or friend. MEO has provided the tools to help people change lives.
Through MEO, people can obtain assistance in paying rent, utility bills or getting a ride to the doctor, to work or to school. There is training to improve job skills and employability and then help in finding a job.
MEO’s early childhood care and education gives children and their families a head start in life. Helping low-income young people learn life skills, earn money, prepare for the work force and engage in positive teen activities is the goal of MEO’s Youth Services Department.
Seniors are better able to remain in their homes through MEO’s chore services program and the MEO Transportation Department provides wheelchair-accessible buses to carry those with special needs to day care or to the senior center to have lunch with valued friends.
When things seem to be falling apart a friendly MEO counselor is there to pull things together. MEO fights the ravages of substance abuse through a comprehensive program of education and prevention. MEO’s B.E.S.T. reintegration program helps former inmates return successfully to the community.
MEO’s Business Development Center makes small loans that make a big difference in starting a business as well as teaching entrepreneurs ways to to realize their dreams as an independent business people.
MEO provides basic implements for living, for earning, for self-reliance and for community involvement in the belief that rather than giving a person a fish, it is better to teach them to catch fish for themselves.
Mayor Charmaine Tavares said, “MEO is such an essential part of our community. The many services they provide help an amazing number of people from little keiki to our kupuna. They do ‘help people and change lives’!”
April is Community Action Month. The Legislature, the mayor and the County Council will be adopting official documents in this regard, and Rep. Mazie Hirono will be addressing MEO’s contribution to the community on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
As part of the commitment to help others help themselves and one another, MEO is sponsoring a program on financial literacy covering budgeting, dealing with taxes and other money matters.
MEO is presenting a series of one-hour radio broadcasts each Monday during April at 7 a.m. on KAOI -AM 1110 with the last show scheduled for May 5. Each week, key staff members and guests will discuss important issues facing Maui and how MEO helps to address them.
Sandy Baz is executive director of Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., a Community Action Agency serving Maui County with more than 40 programs and services.