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New head of Filipino Community Center in Waipahu seeks to expand reach while embracing traditions

Filipino Community Center
Jeannie Lum

Jeannie Lum grew up immersed in her Filipino culture. Whether it was speaking Tagalog, cooking Filipino food or attending community events — she said that fueled many of her passions.

“My parents, they found it very important to continue to instill the values in me … not just limited to the cooking and the language, but the values,” she said. “As they were raising me, it continued to be a part of who I am.”

Lum, 39, was named executive director of the Filipino Community Center last month. Since then, she said she’s worked to bring back the center’s popular programs that were halted during the pandemic.

She also hopes to add more programs, including intergenerational events that bring families together, a financial literacy series, and health and wellness education. And she said she wants to partner with more community groups, businesses and area schools, as well as increase their social media presence, to expand their reach.

She said she plans to boost their fundraising efforts and create a contingency plan to help address the FilCom’s financial struggles, coupled with the impacts of the pandemic’s shutdown.

“This place is an amazing resource. I definitely found myself learning more about my culture, how valuable the Filipino community is, how amazing and how hard working they are,” she said. “Maybe sometimes the job just chooses you… and then here I am today. And I'm very grateful that I have this opportunity to serve the community.”

Founded in 2002, the Filipino Community Center serves as a gathering place that provides social, economic and education services, and promotes Filipino culture and heritage. The 50,000-square-foot facility in Waipahu is considered the largest Filipino community center outside of the Philippines.

Lum, who is Chinese and Filipino, was born in the Philippines and moved to Hawaiʻi when she was a kid. She grew up speaking Tagalog at home.

When she started working at a bank more than 10 years ago, she said her company sponsored events in the Filipino community. Many were organized by the FilCom. Through that work, she made connections, and began attending and volunteering at more events.

Fast forward to this year, when Lum was named the center’s programs director in April. And when the executive director position came up, she said she was happy to accept.

Edmund Aczon, longtime chair of the FilCom’s board of directors, said Lum was “on the radar” for a while. He pointed out that the executive director oversees everything from planning for maintenance and repairs to implementing the center’s strategic plan. He described Lum as “the Energizer Bunny that never quits” and said the board felt she was the right fit for the job.

Lum said she tries to carry on her parents’ traditions to her two daughters. And she hopes to do the same at the FilCom.

“I definitely find myself instilling what my parents have taught me and giving it to them, while at the same time letting them know that there are so many ways to embrace your culture…,” she said. “What we want to try to do is bring that culture and find ways to make sure people are able to understand that, no matter what age, no matter what generation they're at.”

Jayna Omaye was a culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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