by Michelle Orian-Lau | May 22, 2023
We all experienced hardships during the pandemic. But for many in our communities, the financial impacts have been deeper and longer lasting. According to Aloha United Way’s ALICE in Hawaii: 2022 Facts and Figures report, there has been a significant increase of Hawaii residents falling into poverty, while many more struggle to afford basic necessities.
As a provider of one of these basic needs, our company wants to be a part of finding solutions so our customers and communities can thrive. Noelle Kakimoto is helping us do that.
Things have gotten worse. There are more people in ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), more who lost jobs, more homelessness since COVID. There’s a greater need for more financial assistance,” said Noelle.
She joined our company last August in the newly created position of equity access & affordability manager. As the ALICE report and other data has shown, disadvantaged communities have historically been marginalized and overburdened when it comes to equitable energy resources, infrastructure and clean energy opportunities. And Noelle’s job is to help shape company strategies and programs to better support our low- to moderate-income customers. To do that, she’s working to clarify and define different categories of our customer base to better understand their needs.
“There are so many people who need help,” said Noelle. “Everything can be so individualized. Having someone to focus on this will help customers get the resources they need — not only from our company.”
Data and research play a big part in her role, but so does outreach. Noelle meets with 8–10 community stakeholder groups monthly or quarterly to discuss LMI needs. She takes all that information and perspectives with her when she attends internal company meetings.
“I definitely look at things through the LMI lens. It’s my job to see how every program and project affects them,” she said.
Currently, her outreach is mainly with stakeholders. She meets regularly with groups such as the Public Utilities Commission, State Energy Office, Hawaii Energy and Energy Equity Hui to develop frameworks that define equity and justice for LMI customers. She also works with organizations like the Kupuna Collective that joins other community groups helping those struggling to pay their bills. In turn, Noelle gathers valuable insight on the needs of the communities they serve.
“I would love it if we could lessen the energy burden for people. People just can’t pay their bills. There are still so many people who are disconnected,” she said. “I’d love to hear people aren’t struggling so much. People shouldn’t have to choose between rent, utilities or food.”
Noelle isn’t a social worker, but she’s enthusiastic about social work and outreach. “Helping people has been my biggest passion.”
For three years, she worked in the Office of the Public Defender working as the coordinator for Community Outreach Court. She helped homeless and low-income clients navigate the legal process by clearing fines and fees through community service. Noelle also provided case management and connected them to resources for vital identification documents, transitional housing, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and healthcare options. Before that Noelle worked with Legal Aid as an outreach specialist — helping people sign up for health insurance.
Outside of work, she supports homeless and incarcerated people through volunteering with College Guild, an organization that offers free courses to incarcerated people, and offering support to several incarcerated pen pals. She even co-founded the Hawaii Abolition Collective. While the organization is no longer in operation, she continues to provide food, medical supplies and money to their houseless friends in Sand Island.
Another thing this Kamehameha Schools graduate is passionate about is college football — especially Baylor football. “I’m super unathletic and I hate playing sports,” admitted Noelle. “But the first time my dad took me to a Baylor football game, I loved it immediately.”
Noelle and her father are both Baylor sports fans and proud alums. She started writing articles and blogs about Baylor sports during high school. While at Baylor, she worked for Athletics Communications for three years as a student covering football, basketball, tennis, soccer, baseball and softball. When she returned home, she assisted Roosevelt High School’s football head coach, Arnold Morgado, in planning plays and player logistics for the running backs and special teams squads. (This was in 2018, the summer before they won their first OIA division II championship.) She then worked as a freelance writer for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser covering high school football for three seasons.
She still blogs about college sports today as the spring sports editor for SB Nation’s Our Daily Bears site. So when not working, writing or volunteering, you’ll often find her watching football with her dad or spending time with her pets: three dogs, one cat, a lot of fish and snails, and two rats (her pride and joy).
Michelle Orian-Lau is a senior communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.