Maui Economic Opportunity’s first executive director, Elizabeth “Jonesie” Medeiros, passed away on Nov. 6, 2022, at age 96.
Medeiros laid the foundation for the nonprofit Community Action Program, first serving as administrator for what would become MEO. The initial federal funding through President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was funneled to MEO as the designated anti-poverty agency for Maui County.
Under Medeiros’ leadership, MEO was chartered as a nonprofit Community Action Agency on March 22, 1965. MEO is one of four Community Action Agencies in Hawaiʻi and 1,100 agencies nationwide.
Medeiros was an educator and attracted to the position at MEO because of the Head Start preschool program, which serves low-income children between 3 and 5 years old without cost to their families. After launching Head Start, which today serves 200 children in centers on Maui and Moloka‘i, Medeiros departed MEO after a year.
Education was her calling, but community outreach and organizing not so much. She returned to education and teaching and left the agency in the hands of a young Joe Souki.
The seed planted by Medeiros has grown tremendously in the five-plus decades. MEO’s budget was $250,000 in Medeirosʻ time; today the budget is about $21 million with more than 40 programs.
Services for Medeiros will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 19, at Ballard Family Mortuary.