MEO’s Debbi Amaral named a Champions For Children

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March 17, 2021

Maui Economic Opportunity’s Director of Early Childhood Services, Debbi Amaral, was chosen a Hawai`i Children’s Action Network Champions for Children for Early Learning as an individual.

The Hawai`i Children’s Action Network will present 11 awards to individuals, businesses and agencies, “reflecting our vision of Hawaiʻi where all children are healthy, safe and ready to learn.” A virtual ceremony will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. April 7.

Eight of the awards were announced last week, but three awards — Innovator, Family-Friendly Employer and Unsung Hero – will be announced at the virtual ceremony, a fundraiser for the Hawai`i Children’s Action Network. Tickets may be obtained at

(Cristina and Devin Pagaduan of Pastele House Maui are nominees for Unsung Hero).

There were nearly 90 nominees for the 11 awards.

For the last 26 years, Debbi Amaral has managed operations and supervised staff at Maui Economic Opportunity’s Head Start pre-kindergarten program for low income families on two islands in Maui County. She began with MEO in 1996 as education/disability specialist, working her way up to director of Early Childhood Services in 2005.

She currently directs 13 in-person/virtual Head Start sites, serving as many as 250 children and their families, and Kahi Kamali`i Infant/Toddler and `Ohana Strengthening programs.

Prior to joining MEO as an educational specialist in 1995, Amaral got experience as a teacher and teacher’s aide at Kahului Union, Wailuku Union, Iao and Kahului Baptist preschool programs. She earned her associate’s degree in human services with an emphasis in early childhood from Maui Community College, now UH-Maui College.

Amaral also is the current Head Start Association of Hawai`i treasurer and a past president.

She had to use her experience and creativity to quickly keep her programs running after the pandemic hit. With MEO’s Head Start as one of the largest pre-kindergarten programs in Maui County, Amaral set up COVID-19 health and safety protocols, developed virtual learning sites while maintaining in-person access for some working families, secured computer tablets for families without them and created a virtual curriculum, which included packets mailed to families.

Amaral also was able to keep the Kahi Kamali`i infant/toddler program at the J. Walter Cameron Center in Wailuku open for in-person child care, including for critical first-responders and health care workers.

Because MEO’s Head Start program encompasses children’s families as well, Amaral organized drive-thru food giveaways and weekend meals through Maui Food Bank’s Aloha BackPack Buddies program.

“We are so proud of Debbi,” said MEO CEO Debbie Cabebe. “She works tirelessly for the children of Maui County, with a focused attention on child development during these critical years. She is so deserving of this honor.”

Another Maui County nonprofit organization was honored as a Champions of Children. Maui Family Support Services, Inc., Early Head Start captured the award for Early Learning organization.

Debbi Amaral, Early Childhood Services director for Maui Economic Opportunity, was named Hawai`i Children’s Action Network Champions for Children for Early Learning as an individual.

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