Recently retired 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo installed the 2021-22 Maui Economic Opportunity Board of Directors on Thursday, June 24, noting “MEO’s mission as very similar to what I envisioned when I took the bench.”
“I think we understand that sometimes people make mistakes in their lives or are dealt a bad hand or some things take a turn for the worse,” she said at the hybrid in-person/video meeting in the MEO classrooms in Wailuku. “But when people are willing to change, and they ask for help, and they want to better themselves, . . . and if they are ready to make these changes in one’s life, we can help them enrich their lives, reach their full potential.”
At the first in-person, socially distanced board meeting since the pandemic began in late March 2020, the slate of officers was approved by the 21-member board. The officers for the upcoming fiscal year include: Bard Peterson, president; Carol Reimann, vice president; Adele Rugg, secretary; and Cliff Alakai, treasurer.
Making an analogy to dining at a buffet spread, Judge Loo noted the assortment of skills brought to the table by each board member. “When I look in this room, I see the talent . . . I see here analytical skills people bring, adaptability, flexibility, initiative, innovative creative thinking and resilience,” she said. “This is how we problem-solve.”
Judge Loo kept with the kitchen utensil/foodie theme of the installation and gave “Top Chef” CEO Debbie Cabebe a cooking apron and nicknamed the board secretary, Adele “Rachael Ray” Rugg.
In her speech, Cabebe read off a list of Maui County residents who were helped by MEO in the 2020-21 year, including 12,500 households and 33,700 individuals who received food vouchers, rent/mortgage/utility and other assistance during the pandemic. MEO also offered:
– 288,799 rides to 173 people with specialized transportation.
– 3,572 people help with energy costs.
– 1,247 seniors with access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
– 740 youths with help to avoid risk-taking behaviors, including substance and alcohol abuse, and improve social/emotional development.
– 429 people secure safe and affordable housing.
– 173 people obtain employment, increased income and a living wage.
She also acknowledged private funders, including the Weinberg Foundation, Hawai`i Community Foundation, First Hawaiian Bank, Kent and Polli Smith and Alexander & Baldwin; community partners; MEO staff; and the 220 volunteers.
Peterson noted a community needs assessment is conducted every three years, which MEO uses to create a strategic plan to help low income individuals and families.
“Over the last 12 months, and in the face of incredible challenges, MEO has fulfilled its mission,” he said. “Not only did MEO continue to help our community, providing essential services, MEO also assisted with pandemic relief by processing 12,500 applications for the HELP program. MEO also helped over a hundred farmers receive agriculture micro grants. . . . 121,000 lives were touched in Maui County and that is just an outstanding number of people.”