The many stories of Maui often involve those who migrate here to find a better life in paradise. But what happens when their hopes and dreams are dashed on the rocky shores of reality?
Testifying in support of the Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) rental assistance program at Mayor Alan Arakawa's community budget hearing last week in Kihei, Patricia Prebalick told the assembled department directors and deputy directors what happened to her dreams when disaster struck her family.
Prebalick used to work at the U.S. Post Office. She and her husband did everything they were supposed to do. They paid their bills on time, saved up six months of salary as a cushion, enjoyed 35 years of marriage and raised five kids. Then she was injured on the job.
Members of the Kīhei Youth Center pose with Mayor Alan Arakawa before the start of the mayor’s community hearing in Kīhei on the upcoming 2013 county budget.
"I used up all my leave and then I went on unpaid leave," said Prebalick. "We could not pay our rent any longer, and we were on the verge of homelessness when a veteran's councilor for my husband, a disabled veteran, suggested that we go to MEO for help.
"When we went there, we didn't even know what to ask," she continued. "I thought we were going to live in our car, but they helped us with our rent and I applied for my federal disability, which can take up to a year to come through.
"Please continue to support the MEO rental assistance program," she concluded.
Budgets can be dry documents with numbers buried in reams of information designed to obscure as much as to illuminate. But, in reality, they are more than green-shade affairs for accountants and bureaucrats to admire in meetings that last too long and accomplish too little, other than run the clock on the salaries of those in attendance.
A budget, like the county budget, is also a statement of who we are and the values we believe in and support. They are statements that can either shine as a beacon of hope or spotlight our failures.
They are also where contradictions and policy decisions emerge in the struggle of too few dollars trying to accomplish too much work.
Hope is found in programs like MEO's Enlace Hispano that seek to help the island's Hispanic population integrate into the community, learn English, take citizenship classes, start a business and educate their children.
Anna Flores puts a name on the budget numbers.
Speaking in English, she told the hearing, "There are more than 10,000 Hispanics on Maui. Twelve years ago, I was knocking on doors, and the only ones who would help me were at MEO. They are still the only people helping us and the workload is too much. They work very hard and need more funds."
Maui's history is one of small towns and of neighbors helping neighbors. In years gone by, children were never alone and were looked after by aunties and uncles.
It's harder now. A family may try to work as many jobs as possible, often part-time work, with an employer keeping hours just below the threshold that would qualify them for paid healthcare.
When that happens, who looks after the children? In South Maui, it's the Kihei Youth Center (KYC).
In 2013, the center will be 30 years old. Today, it helps 600 children ages 8 to 18 who are registered members, and offers a safe place for those children to learn and grow thanks to partnerships with the Maui Police Department, MEO transportation, the Maui Food Bank, and local businesses and churches.
Working with the Maui Food Bank last summer, the center served 3,800 meals to low-income keiki. For some, it was their only meal of the day. And to help their families, the center would often prepare food boxes to take home.
"I have seen tears shed in gratitude," testified KYC staff member Leslie Garcia. "I thank the County of Maui for continued support of MEO, the Maui Food Bank, the Kihei Youth Center and for helping us create a healthy and sustainable community."
A "sustainable community." Words to ponder. Are we as a community just about the concerns of water, traffic and our personal version of paradise? Is there more we should be concerned about?
Find out by going to a community budget meeting and hear the voices of those who make Maui a true paradise. It's not just the beaches, the ocean, the mountains and the views. It's about the people. Take the opportunity to attend a budget hearing to learn more about your neighbors--and yourself.
For more information on a budget hearing in your area, go to www.mauicounty.gov.