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5 Questions With ...Editorial

John Fink: The president of Aloha United Way tackles the needs of Hawaii residents seeking relief during the pandemic

                                John Fink, president and CEO of Aloha United Way.
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John Fink, president and CEO of Aloha United Way.

What are your thoughts about the state’s COVID-19 rental relief program, and the problems encountered?

The state program, announced and developed as it went live in September, has benefited more than 13,500 qualified applicants with over $60 million paid thus far in rent/mortgage relief in a little over 100 days.

The overwhelming influx of applications forced us to limit our open-application period after only five weeks to ensure that we could process all of the applications. We initially expected people would ask for a greater amount of back rent than actually occurred, perhaps due to the program’s timing, and early on there were issues setting up the backroom operations and vital application forms.

Once we got past the initial learning curve, AUW and its partners, along with Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, have been able to help thousands of local households, which has been the sole intent all along.

How is Aloha United Way balancing this crisis with meeting other, ongoing social needs? Has the focus changed?

While four relief programs that AUW has been involved with since the onset of this pandemic have, at times, been all-consuming, we have still managed to cater to the needs of our safety net programs which provide emergency housing, shelter, food and crisis services.

We also continue to serve our ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population, who are struggling more than ever, and we have ramped up our 2-1-1 referral and information service to help handle the 600% increase in calls.

What fundraising strategies is AUW pursuing to offset the difficulties presented by 2020?

Aloha United Way is highly dependent on the annual giving of our community donors, business associates, and the workplace campaigns that sustain our programs as we help hundreds of thousands of people through the collection of more than 320 charities that we support.

With minimal in-person contact and constant uncertainty throughout the business community, it has been a trying year, to say the least. We’ve adopted different media platforms and evolving strategies by working with new technology and digital components, allowing donors to experience more engagement and a hands-on feel for where their donations are going, the impact and how they are helping to create change.

This fundraising momentum at AUW was underway before the pandemic, but really reached liftoff in April, and we’ve received positive response and great feedback from community supporters across the state in being able to interact in this way. We are also working with individuals and businesses on more of a year-round approach to meet their philanthropic goals.

Setting aside the pandemic, how has the AUW mission and operation has changed?

With over a century of service to Hawaii, AUW has evolved with our community needs and will continue to do so. We are now more focused on client needs with businesses and individuals, including planned giving, and in doing so we continue to meet the challenging issues of the community.

Within the last five years, we created the ALICE report to help illustrate that roughly half of our state population is struggling to make ends meet, and we launched our cohort of 10 ALICE partner agencies who are collaboratively working to help those families.

All our programs provide vital assistance, but ALICE was borne out of necessity and is central to creating lasting change here.

What gives you satisfaction in this work?

We have people calling our 2-1-1 line in complete desperation mode, feeling hopeless and helpless, and our operators help to steer them toward resolution for some of their issues, which often results in a sigh of relief and a big “mahalo.”

Some of these people have never before had to ask for help. For people who have always seen themselves as givers, that’s a hard place to find oneself, but there is absolutely no shame in making sure you first take care of yourself and your loved ones. Ever.

I took the CEO job at AUW in June knowing full well what was going on with COVID-19, and my satisfaction from day one has been simply to make a positive difference through action and (inevitably) results.

AUW endeavors to be a preventive agency, a catalyst of change, keeping more people from falling into hardship and trying to pull up those already in need; we aim to provide hope and help.

Many people in ALICE households have been barely getting by since the 2008/2009 recession, and then to get smacked down through no fault of their own by this insidious virus has been a tough burden to bear.

But I am quite hopeful. Through the stories that we hear from those we do help, I am comforted knowing that our work is making a difference every day, and will make for a better, more resilient Hawaii when we get to the other side of this pandemic.


>> Title: Aloha United Way, president/CEO since June 2020

>> Professional experience: Television executive (KFVE, KHNL) for 37 years; editorialist/author/columnist (“Think About It”)

>> Education: Wesleyan University, CT (included one semester at University of Hawaii-Manoa), B.A. degree in East Asian history

>> Other community roles:40-plus years on local charity/nonprofit boards; emcee/speaker at various community and fundraising events

>> Personal background: Born in Far Rockaway, N.Y.; raised in Highland Park, IL.; I’ve happily lived in Hawaii for 66% of my life

>> Assorted favorites:Listening to lots of music (favorite album: “Quadrophenia” by The Who), attending concerts and sporting events (pre-pandemic), playing golf, spending quality time with family and friends; bad knees forced soccer-playing retirement, sadly, after 40 years. Favorite quotes: “Do or do not; there is no try,” and “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

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