Maui Hope Puts Autistic Adults at The Forefront of Lahaina Fire Support

 Maui Hope Puts Autistic Adults at The Forefront of Lahaina Fire Support

By Kami-Leigh Agard

Maui Hope Executive Director Andrea Rodgers said it best: “Like with September 11 and Hurricane Sandy, the Lahaina wildfires awoke everyone’s humanity,” and for the special needs adults in her nonprofit, it awoke in them the pride of feeling, “needed,” as opposed to the internal and public narrative of being, “needy.”

This past Monday, January 8, marks just five months since the horrific fires razed Lahaina, a small historic town located on the northwestern coast of the island of Maui, Hawaii. Already determined as one of the deadliest wildfires in modern U.S. history—communities, organizations and good Samaritans from all over the country and beyond—have played a key role in coming to the aid of the 12,000 displaced residents who call the Pacific oceanside community home. Rockaway Beach Autism Families member, Patricia Labossiere, reached out to me to see how we can help, and after connecting with Rodgers, just in time for New Year’s, RBAF was blessed with the opportunity to ship a huge box of holiday gifts to families of autistic children in Lahaina. In this two-part series, I share what I gleaned from my interview with Rodgers about her journey with founding Maui Hope and how her nonprofit has catapulted autistic adults like her son, Ian, to the forefront of helping Lahaina autism families impacted by the wildfires.

Maui Hope is a 501(c)3 nonprofit Hawaii Department of Health licensed Medicaid Waiver provider that is dedicated to supporting autistic adults with a full life through meaningful relationships and productive opportunities.

Since the August wildfires, the organization has banded with boots-on-the-ground organizations such as Hawaii Autism Foundation, with whom they raised money to present a $1,900 check to Lahaina resident, Jhuendel Sabalo, and her eight-year-old daughter who has autism. The funds were raised through a GoFundMe campaign, and helped the family purchase a car after they lost their home, vehicle and all their belongings.

Another family, the Malapiras, whose son is autistic and needs communication behavioral therapy, has been facing housing insecurity, staying in a hotel. Through more fundraising efforts, Maui Hope gifted the family $2,000 towards buying a vehicle. The organization has also helped families with the purchase of air filters, which became a prime need due to the smoke that engulfed the area, still affecting the air quality today.

Rodgers said, “These are disadvantaged people, and though we’re on the other side of Maui, we wanted to help. “So, we got this idea to raise money to help families of children with autism. I can’t imagine losing your home and everything you own, but then add caring for a 10-year-old with autism onto that.

“So, we raised money, and putting our special needs people at the forefront of relief efforts gave them confidence and built their self-esteem. Now, they were not the vulnerable population. They were out there volunteering at shelters, raising money, giving checks to people to help buy cars and more! It became this beautiful thing, and I watched how much they wanted to be a part of giving back.”

Rodgers shared that even before the fires, she and her staff had conversations about what extracts the highest potential out of someone. “How do we shift from the perception that someone with autism is ‘less than,’ and instead recognize them as authentic souls who desire a life that is rich in everyday wants and needs, like a job, a nice home, meaningful relationships, and feeling valued?” Rodgers said.

Stay tuned for part two of my enlightening conversation with Rodgers.

RBAF’s next family support group meeting is Thursday, January 18, 7 p.m. at Knights of Columbus (333 Beach 90th Street). For more info, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/ Instagram.

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