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Helping some of Hawaii’s most vulnerable, Never Quit winner embodies can-do spirit

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Helping some of Hawaii’s most vulnerable, Never Quit winner embodies can-do spirit
By Pablo Ros ·
Tags: Never Quit

Mary Akimo-Lu’uwai, a member of the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA/AFSCME Local 152), is a case management coordinator at the Maui Community Mental Health Center/Hawaii Department of Health, Adult Mental Health Division.

For 17 years, on the island of Maui, she has been helping individuals with mental illness and the families who care for them. And from the beginning, she has loved every minute of it, knowing she is making a difference in the lives of some of her community’s most vulnerable people.

“What gives me the biggest satisfaction is working with a population that is not an easy population to work with, but often it’s because of stigma, of how they are perceived,” Akimo-Lu’uwai says. “Yet they are like anybody else who is hurt or needs help, and I love being able to help.”

Last summer, when wildfires raged through the town of Lahaina, Akimo Lu’uwai sprang into action.

“She created plans for her teams to be one of the first responders to provide more than the much-needed mental health care,” says Patricia Codorniz, a co-worker. “Today, she continues to take the lead and work many long hours leading her team and providing outreach to those affected by these devastating events.”

For her service to her community, Akimo-Lu’uwai is a winner of our union’s Never Quit Service Award, which recognizes public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

“I’ve never been one to say, ‘I can’t do that,’ or, ‘This can’t be done,’” says Akimo-Lu’uwai. “I won’t settle for that. If I can’t get to it right away, I’ll say, ‘Give me some time and I’ll see what I can do.’”

Codorniz, a nurse supervisor in the Adult Mental Health Division who nominated Akimo-Lu’uwai for the award, says she did so to recognize Akimo-Lu’uwai’s extraordinary determination to help individuals with mental illness.

“Working with many Maui nonprofit agencies throughout the years, Mary has demonstrated a deep compassion to support the lives of community members with severe persistent mental illnesses,” she says. “Working next to Mary on many cases, there are great success stories and outcomes that often seemed too difficult to overcome.”

Akimo-Lu’uwai says she enjoys connecting people with the resources they need and knows she is good at her job. But helping others is more than a job for her; it’s a “core value” she learned from her parents, she says, especially her dad, who taught her to “always help others if you know how, and don’t sit idle if there is work to be done.”

She says she is motivated to do her very best because she loves making a difference in her community.

“I don’t know everything, but if you come to me and you need some help or need some guidance, and you trust me enough to help you make that connection, then I’m going to help you make that connection,” says Akimo-Lu’uwai. “And if you need more help afterwards, then I’m still here for you.”

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