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Editorial | Island Voices

Column: New ways to connect our communities will drive recovery

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  • Mike Broderick

    Mike Broderick

Just last year, and now seemingly a lifetime ago in our COVID-19 world, the YMCA of Honolulu celebrated our 150th anniversary, looking back on how the Y had changed to meet significant events that included two World Wars and the Great Depression.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, our community is collectively facing the most dramatic, and sudden, change in our history. As the Honolulu Star-Advertiser noted in an editorial page headline (Our View, May 14), “People are struggling, and need help fast.”

Change has upset the building blocks of our physical, financial and emotional well-being. Our future will look different moving forward.

Yet, the willingness to embrace change also provides a roadmap for our state’s future – moving forward with resiliency and hope, to find collaborative solutions to health and economic recovery.

Like so many other organizations, the YMCA of Honolulu was devastated by the impact of the pandemic. Literally overnight, we were forced to close temporarily our health and fitness facilities islandwide. With dramatically reduced revenue from Y membership fees and all other programs as well, we had to make the hard decision to furlough 1,200 of our staff.

As are many other businesses and nonprofits in Hawaii, we are projecting severe financial losses due to the pandemic.

Teamwork has quickly become the only way forward.

In the early days of the pandemic, we were able to modify our child-care program to serve essential workers through the support of the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Hawaii Resilience Fund. Our Leeward, Nuuanu and Windward sites provided services so that workers from healthcare to supermarkets to bus drivers could continue to work knowing that their children were safe. Most received much-needed financial aid.

Operational costs for a safe child-care program are more than double what it cost pre-COVID-19. We are extremely grateful for the addition of financial support from the City and County of Honolulu to expand this program so that more parents will soon have the safe child care they need to return to work. And together help to rebuild our economy.

Our Kalihi Y is now one of three personal protective equipment (PPE) collection hubs, part of a Hawaii Resilience Fund initiative to provide PPE to behavioral health and social service providers. Already we have collected nearly 10,000 pieces of donated equipment from community members.

New ways of doing business will also drive a healthy community. For example, by pivoting quickly to virtual services, we were able to provide sometimes life-saving counseling to keep at-risk kids, teens and adults on track for physical and mental health needs. We are excited to increase our 70-plus Virtual YMCA on-demand offerings for all abilities and ages to include live, interactive exercise classes. We still need those interpersonal connections.

We can all be community connectors.

One of our front-line workers who helped distribute some of the 48,000 meals at Y grab-and-go sites was recently in tears to see the desperation, but also the gratitude, of families receiving food. She said she was glad she could help, but she wished she could do even more.

In the face of unprecedented uncertainty and concerns, community members working together have forged new possibilities and potential. Hope defies odds, a flickering candle that refuses to go out. With our community pulling together, that candle can burn brightly once again.

Michael F. Broderick is president/CEO of YMCA of Honolulu.

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