Val Sugawa, left, gives Danielle Cunha, a former flight attendant, a free haircut at Wellspring Covenant Church in Halawa as part of the ShareAloha outreach program. Sugawa, once a flight attendant herself, initiated the program to help hundreds of Aloha Airlines employees who lost their jobs a few months ago.
Former Aloha workers find haven at Wellspring
Val Sugawa felt so moved by the plight of her former Aloha Airlines co-workers that she got fellow members at the Wellspring Covenant Church to help the unemployed workers on a regular basis.
They can get a haircut or pick up canned goods and gas cards every Tuesday at the Halawa church.
The ShareAloha program was born "to just love them, be there for them, support them through this time. We don't (preach) to them to 'come to my church.' This is a really good place to heal. We encourage each other," Sugawa said.
About 1,900 workers lost their jobs when Aloha Airlines shut down in March. Sugawa, a flight attendant who left Aloha a year ago to raise her children, said she still regarded the crew as "family to me. I cried with everybody. I was there the last day (of employment) and cried every night for a whole week."
The church on Iwaena Street in the Halawa industrial area is open to employees every Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. An average of 50 to 70 people drop by for a cup of coffee, lunch or some camaraderie, as well as pick up gas and grocery cards, donated business clothes and canned goods, she said. They can also get a haircut and help with their resumes, and exchange tips on job opportunities and other services, said Sugawa, who is one of three people who give haircuts. Aloha employees can also post their needs on the sharealoha.wordpress.com Web site.
Chrissie Gilkey, an Aloha flight attendant for 30 years, said she picked up "my first business suit" for a job interview, took home food, had her resume done and got a haircut - "It's a one-stop shop."
"Just to know others share the same trials helps us to move on. We also share our triumphs, like someone says, 'I got an interview!' or 'I got a job!' We get to interact and it's very encouraging," said Gilkey, who is trying to get a job as a flight attendant because "I still have a passion for flying."
The Rev. Dale Vallejo-Sanderson said the church has put out its welcome mat to the workers because "God calls us to give and share. This is how Jesus would do it. (Our attitude is:) This is our home; we open it to you; be a part of our family."
Some of the jobless are discouraged or depressed and haven't been out of their homes much. Wellspring has been the first "safe place" they've come, where they can have lunch and talk with old friends, and "where there's no pressure to get a job" or seek God, he said.
"I'm here to listen. Some ask about finding God or just need to talk about their struggles. We've had some wonderful conversations with people trying to process this (mass layoff)," he said. AlohaShare will continue to operate as long as there is a need, he added.
Sugawa said church members, who number 300 to 350, gave "very generously" to raise $7,000 to start the program, and the public also chipped in. Monetary donations have been dwindling, but clothes, canned food and household items have continued to appear on the church's doorstep.
"Some people are forgetting about this (situation), but there are still a lot of people hurting and having a hard time finding jobs," she added.
Gilkey said employees have found the city's Oahu Work Links program "so helpful" in offering workshops on how to seek jobs.
Helping Hands Hawaii, the Lokahi Giving Tree, Innovative Concepts Christian Church and New Hope Church have also given assistance, but Wellspring gives them sustenance every week, Gilkey added.