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MEO offers help for people in need, runs buses too

Viewpoint

The hibiscus in the logo of Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. is a familiar sight on buses transporting Maui County’s young, old and persons with disabilities.

But MEO is so much more. We are a member of the National Community Action Network, a robust force of more than 1,000 local community action agencies across the nation focused on anti-poverty initiatives that stabilize people with low incomes while helping them achieve economic security; ensure communities are healthy; offer economic opportunity, and engage people with low incomes in building opportunities in the community.

Community Action, a product of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other.

In addition to operating Maui County’s paratransit and human services transportation network, MEO provides early childhood education opportunities to low-income families through Head Start and Kahi Kamali’i; reintegration services for people released from jails and prisons; rent/mortgage and utilities subsidies; business development programs and loans; anti-bullying, substance abuse awareness and family building activities; and services, activities and programs for kupuna.

Other MEO programs have faded away, such as the AmeriCorps program last year, due to economic issues and the pandemic. Others were picked up by other agencies, like MEO Chore Services, with Hale Mahaolu offering the same services.

MEO attempts to keep in touch with the community and conducts a comprehensive assessment every three years to identify community needs and secure local resources to meet the needs.

It is through trial and error that MEO has learned and grown. MEO must continue to be responsive to the needs of the Maui County community and remain relevant to fulfill its mission of “strengthening the community while helping people in need restore their hope, reach their potential and enrich their lives.”

During the past year, along with administering the county’s Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership (HELP) and other emergency assistance programs, MEO core programs and services were challenged to remain relevant and meet the needs of clients. Staffers were flexible, positive and committed to providing services to more than 46,000 individuals and families while ensuring that everyone was safe, program goals and objectives were met, and reports were accurate and submitted to funders on time.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the best in MEO, which helped more than 30,000 people, and changed — or at least kept financially afloat — many lives. Many individuals sought out assistance for the very first time. The flexibility, creativity and identification of critical needs of Maui County residents born of the pandemic are ingrained in MEO’s DNA and history.

MEO has been “helping people, changing lives” for 56 years and is an articulate advocate for those whose voices are often not heard. MEO works in concert with the resident, public and private sectors, providing services to more than 46,000 individuals and families, touching more than 138,000 lives throughout Maui County and the State of Hawaii.

Reflecting on the more than five decades with National Community Action Month in May, it has been quite a ride, with so many to thank for MEO’s successes. Mahalo to the former and current MEO board members, executives, staff, community partners and funders.

To learn more about MEO programs and services, visit www.meoinc.org or call Executive Administrative Assistant Lee Imada at 249-2990.

* Debbie Cabebe is MEO chief executive officer and a nationally certified Results Oriented and Management and Accountability trainer and a certified senior professional in human resource management with 30 years of management experience.

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