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Essential Help for Essential Workers

Island of Hawai‘i YMCA
November 3, 2020

When the pandemic hit, Alena Vincent was in a bind. She had started a new job with the DMV, while her husband, Wendell, worked with the Department of Transportation. Both were considered essential workers, but there was only one problem: who would care for their seven foster children, ages 6 to 13. With schools closed and no family who could step in, the Vincents sent their kids to the Island of Hawai‘i YMCA in Hilo, but they knew they wouldn’t be able to afford it for long. Like hundreds of other essential workers with kids, “We were stuck,” Alena says. “Just stuck.”

Alena was about to quit her job to care for the children when the Kohanaiki Fund came to the rescue. Homeowners in Kohanaiki, a private residential golf community in North Kona, started fundraising in 2015 to support athletics, STEM and Hawaiian cultural education for local keiki. But they wanted to do more, so in 2019 Kohanaiki partnered with the Hawai‘i Community Foundation to get funding to where it could do the most good. “We wanted to start something our members could contribute to,” says Kohanaiki vice president for administration Allison Aganus. “HCF has really helped us to broaden our reach to nonprofits that provide the most benefit to Hawai‘i Island keiki.”

With HCF’s guidance, Kohanaiki donated $18,000 to the Island of Hawai‘i YMCA, enabling them to cover full- time care, meals and distance-learning support for eighty-three children (so far)—of essential workers: doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, postal workers and many more. YMCA hired new staff, adapted its facilities to ensure the children’s safety, provided food and distance-learning technology. The funds “really helped us pull through,” says Wendy Botelho, CEO of Island of Hawai‘i YMCA. “All of our parents are essential workers, and we are full and continue to be busy. Whatever each family in our community needs, YMCA will do.”

Some would say that fostering seven kids is work enough even without a pandemic, but for the Vincents it’s the essential work they truly love. “I like to say we’re not as busy as we are blessed,” Alena says. Still, “Relief came at the perfect time. The grant allows me to work knowing that my children are cared for and loved. Thank you, Kohanaiki. Thank you, HCF and YMCA. So much thank you!”

Island of Hawai‘i YMCA