“I started as a youth worker just a couple of weeks before the pandemic hit in March of 2020,” said Simion Singeichy, youth worker for Susannah Wesley Community Center in the Kalihi-Palama community. Simion, after graduating high school, joined the Susannah Wesley team because he was already familiar with them. To him, the counselors, and everyone in the organization were already family. “As a kid in the after-school program, these people became my family. They checked in on me. This place was like a second home - it has wi-fi, A/C, mentors - it was a safe place for me,” shared Simion.
Ultimately, he wanted to contribute to the well-being of his community and give back. A few weeks into the job, the pandemic hit. The Center went from hosting after-school programs, tutoring, exercise, and community events to providing rental assistance, unemployment assistance, and emergency food distribution. The classrooms and gyms no longer emitted the sounds of laughter, yelling, and bouncing balls; instead there were pencils pushing across applications and muscles heaving boxes of much-needed food.
Joni Chun, Executive Director of Susannah Wesley Community Center said the entire team had to quickly modify the Center and services in the early days of the pandemic. “We pivoted to stabilize families and support education advancement. The gym became a hub for community food drives and was transformed into a service center where volunteers assisted over 300 households apply for the opportunity for City Section 8 vouchers. We also helped individuals apply for unemployment assistance and provided daily supervised learning environment to support student remote learning,” it was a huge change that Chun said they were able to do quickly. In essence, the experience changed the scope of what Susannah Wesley Community Center offers Kalihi residents. The Center witnessed a 300% increase in demand for their food pantry services, an increase that they continue to see in 2021.
Koreen Garcia, Youth Services Program Director, firmly believes that the organization has become a critical resource for Kalihi households and even beyond. “Once someone becomes involved with our youth or parent programs here in Kalihi, we strive to empower them while nurturing a lifelong connection to the Center. Because we want them to succeed, there are no set timelines for services. We support them until they have developed the skills they need,” said Garcia. She went on to explain that this is not a typical model for case management and referrals. It’s much more common to see a 6 or even 9 month service timeframe, but for the Center, there are no end dates. “We support our families for as long as they need,” said Garcia.
As parents filed in to pick up their kids, Simion, the youth worker and former student, rushed around the room with encouraging words. “You can be anything that you want! Be respectful. You know that I’m always here for you, for anything.” It was obvious that he meant that. It was even more obvious that the Susannah Wesley Community Center staff are family to one another and to every person who crosses the threshold of their door. Simion hopes to attend college in the fall and become a social worker.
Susannah Wesley Community Center is an Aloha United Way Safety Net grantee and community partner. If you’d like to make a donation to support Safety Net or other vital community programs, please visit us online. If you are interested in learning more about Susannah Wesley Community Center and resources available in Kalihi, please visit their website.