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Promoting community participation to reduce poverty

VIEWPOINT

Every three years, Maui Economic Opportunity conducts a community needs assessment, a plan that helps us identify and address residents’ most pressing needs.

On Molokai, for example, MEO recently brought its substance abuse, bullying and suicide prevention program to high school and intermediate youths, offering out-of-school activities like college/career development and community activism.

In Hana, MEO added a new shuttle run to Central Maui on Saturdays for East Maui residents, particularly kupuna, who need to make a shopping trip.

Aligning programs to meet community needs is part of the mandate of Community Action Agencies across the country like MEO.

Community Action Agencies are private nonprofit or public organizations that were created by the federal government in 1964 to combat poverty in geographically designated areas. Status as a Community Action Agency is the result of an explicit designation by state government. A Community Action Agency has a tripartite board structure that is designated to promote the participation of the entire community in the reduction of poverty.

Maui Economic Opportunity is the designated Community Action Agency for Maui County. These agencies seek to involve the community, including elected public officials, private sector representatives and especially residents who live on limited incomes, in assessing local needs and to combat the causes and conditions of poverty.

In order to reduce poverty in the community, MEO secures local, state, private and federal resources to assist low-income individuals and families to acquire useful skills and knowledge, gain access to new opportunities and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Most poverty-related organizations focus on a specific area of need, such as job training, health care, housing or economic development. MEO and other Community Action Agencies reach out to low-income people in their communities, address their multiple needs through a comprehensive approach, develop partnerships with other community organizations, involve low-income clients in the agency’s operations and administer a full range of coordinated programs designed to have a measurable impact on poverty.

Each May, during Community Action Month, we reflect on the impact MEO and our Community Action network has had on our communities. Last year alone, we assisted nearly 19,000 individuals and families in Maui County, with the network helping over 15 million across the country with immediately needed services such as shelter, energy and food, as well as long-term solutions like education and job placement. Community Action Agencies support 99 percent of all American counties with life-changing services to help families achieve financial stability.

Over the past 57 years, MEO has developed numerous partnerships that increase the agency’s capacity. Their support and engagement helps us to be more effective in our approach by determining what Maui County needs and identifying and securing the resources to meet those needs.

The strength of any organization is its people. MEO has a dedicated board and staff who continually put service above self and generous corporate and private donors who help to fill in the funding gaps. This support along with the legislators, elected officials, nonprofit and business partners allow MEO to fulfill its mission of strengthening the community while helping people in need, restore their hope, reach their potential and enrich their lives.

In the coming weeks, MEO will be conducting its triannual community needs assessment. Please consider completing a survey to help us shape our next three-year community plan. To learn more about MEO programs and services, visit our website at www.meoinc.org or call Executive Assistant Lee Imada at (808) 243-4306.

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

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