Commit to Keiki’s Maui Recovery Spotlight Series highlights local organizations and nonprofits that have been working to ensure that Maui’s youngest keiki and their families receive the support and resources they need in the wake of the devastating wildfires.

Imua Family Services

Q&A with Dean Wong, Executive Director

Established in 1947, Imua Family Services is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) committed to serving the early childhood developmental needs of children and their families by providing inclusive CARE services and PLAY programs that stimulate curiosity and motivate learning at developmentally appropriate levels.

Q: What is your organization’s role in helping families with young children who’ve been affected by the wildfires on Maui? What was your immediate response after the fires?

A: Our care coordinators immediately reached out to all families enrolled in Imua’s services located in the Maui fire locations, including West Maui and Kula areas. The calls were meant to inventory if people were safe, had a safe place to be, what resources were needed immediately, etc.

In response to the families needs, we took to our social media platforms asking for supplies from our friends and supporters on the mainland to help by sending, diapers, formula, Pedialyte, breast pumps, baby wipes, rash creams, and other infant and toddler essentials. We set up a stockpile available for families and our care coordinators to access for families. Target corporate got our request and arranged for a 40 foot container of diapers from size 1 – 6 to be sent, and we distributed over 5,000 boxes of diapers to Global Empowerment Mission in Kahana and two of the Micronesian churches for distribution.

Imua Family Services responded in the first week of the aftermath, by providing 20 childcare providers who traveled to West Maui each morning for a Pop-Up Child Care and Respite Site set up at Napili Park. This was alongside one of the major locally run distribution hubs in West Maui. Along with childcare activities, our Healthcare Navigator staff was set up at the hub to help people with healthcare enrollment as well as applications for FEMA, SNAP and other resources provided to the community.

In the six weeks of childcare provision, we provided services that some days had as many as 120 children per day and as low as 40 children per day towards the final two weeks. Imua Family Services partnered with Jakks Pacific who donated a 40 foot container of new toys for children. We set up a toy store called PLAY Imua at the Harbor Shops in Maalaea for children and families to shop for toys and other baby essentials, free of charge for families impacted by the wildfires.

Q: What are the current needs of families with young children on Maui? 

A: Let me start by stating some of the pre-existing conditions of the childcare climate on Maui prior to the wildfires.

  • Maui does not have enough early childhood preschools and childcare providers.
  • Maui did not have enough providers based on need.
  • Every childcare and preschool had long waitlists for preschool seats.
  • There is no inventory of commercial or residential properties that meet the criteria for preschool licensing.
  • Maui families need minimally two incomes to support their families which is impossible to do without childcare and preschool opportunities.

Now let me share the climate Maui finds itself in as a result of the devastation of the Maui wildfires.

  • Maui has lost additional preschools and childcare located throughout West Maui.
  • Families have been displaced to Central and South areas of Maui where childcare and preschools were already at capacity with waitlists.
  • There is now even LESS inventory of commercial or residential properties that will meet the criteria for preschool licensing.
  • Families who could have previously afforded preschool have lost incomes and jobs as a result of the fires.
  • Now Maui has children who have experienced a great traumatic event, the loss of family and loved ones, the loss of home and safe spaces, the loss of teachers and childcare places, of playgrounds and play spaces. Children who fled their homes and survived while some of their friends did not. This need is critical. These are critical developmental years.

Q: What are your needs in order to continue to provide services to families with young children on Maui in the long term?

A: What Imua Family Services needs most is for county and local government to enable, support and permit in a timely manner our organizations that can mobilize quickly and effectively to respond to our communities needs without having to go through years of red tape and regulations that prevent our keiki and families from access to services.