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MEO Celebrates 50 Years

Community Contributed

By Lyn McNeff, CEO, Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

This year Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) celebrates 50 years of service to the people of Molokai and Maui County. MEO began in 1965 as nonprofit grass roots Community Action Agency chartered to fight poverty in Maui County.

For more than two generations MEO has been engaged in this effort through community advocacy and by providing needed services such as transportation, early childhood development, youth services, inmate reintegration back into the community, and micro loans and business development services to low-income entrepreneurs.

Continuing with efforts to expand upon our work in the community, on March 21, MEO will host our 50th anniversary fundraiser dinner “Dancing with Our Stars.” The event is at the King Kamehameha Golf Club and it promises to be an exciting night of fun as local celebrities compete before judges to win the prize of best dancers of the night.

To learn more about our March 21 celebration and how you can join with us in the effort to serve our low and moderate-income families and to end poverty in Maui County, please call us at 249-2990 or visit our website at MEOinc.org.

The MEO’s mission is to strengthen the community while helping people in need restore their hope, reach their potential and enrich their lives. Here are a few findings from MEO’s 2014 needs assessment that illustrate the need for constant change, as the conditions of poverty change and our efforts must change with it.

Nearly half of all renters pay 35 percent or more of their total income on rent. Seventy percent of the over 19,000 rental units in Maui County cost between $1,200 and $1,800 per month. This demonstrates the continuing need for strong rental assistance programs and the need for constant advocacy for affordable work-force housing.

Nearly nine percent of Maui County’s population is below the poverty level. One in every five individuals works two or more jobs to make ends meet. Unemployment on Molokai is 12.7 percent, far exceeding the rest of Maui County and the State. Fifty years ago the group most in poverty was our seniors. Today the largest group in poverty is our children. This challenge requires new strategies, targeted funding and a refusal to accept that this situation is inevitable.

Perhaps Molokai resident, long-time volunteer and former MEO board member Gladys “Cookie” Brown said it best.

“Before MEO, there was no bus service on Molokai. There was no Head Start and other pre-school educational programs,” said Brown. “There was no bus service for seniors to marketing and errands. There was no distribution of surplus food and commodities. There was no business development training.”

The struggle to end poverty is a complex task and takes many partners working in cooperation to give a hand up to the individuals and families who are trying hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. Thank you Molokai for your contributions to this struggle.

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