HONOLULU (KHON2) — Throughout March, we’ve been meeting the finalists of our most Remarkable Women’s contest. On Wednesday, KHON2 met the winner.
Each year, KHON2 selects four exceptional women from around the state, who have made meaningful contributions to their communities.
This year’s most remarkable woman comes from Hawaii Island, where she has revitalized a community mainstay and re-energized the community’s spirit.
The YMCA in Hilo is the center of all the action in this quiet Hawaii Island town.
With Zumba classes, a large exercise facility and gardening for the youngsters — in the middle of it all is the CEO of the Island of Hawaii YMCA – Wendy Botelho.
Botelho has been a hands-on CEO for five years now, and the community is reaping the benefits.
“When I first came here, I saw a place that was — that I knew could be so much more,” said Botelho.
With no budget for supplies, she found some paint from home, fabric and other materials to give the facility a facelift.
“I just took it one day at a time. I would come and I would see a wall that was just horrible looking and say, okay, tomorrow we’re going to take care of that wall,” said Botelho. “You know, it was just little pieces at a time.”
“So I’ve been here about 10 years. So I got to see the before and after,” said YMCA 10 year member Jackie Pualani Johnson. “And the before was kind of functional, it served the community. But now, it’s taken a breath here. Community needs are being met.”
“What she’s brought to the YMCA is a sense of community, professionalism, warm and welcoming staff,” YMCA Zumba instructor and member Harriet Rocha.
These members also said Botelho’s resourcefulness, high energy, can-do spirit, and love for her community have transformed their beloved YMCA.
Botelho secured a generous donation of gym equipment from Boeing, after it shut down its fitness center in California and free shipping to get the equipment to Hawaii.
And then she arranged for inmates from the Kulani Correctional Facility to transport the equipment to the YMCA, as part of a community service project.
“So that was like a huge improvement. It skyrocketed our membership here for the fitness center,” said Martha Rodillas.
Rodillas is Botelho’s sister, who also works at the YMCA and is accustomed to seeing Botelho roll up her sleeves and work alongside her staff.
“She’ll come to work with rubber boots on a rainy day to help us with the flooding when it occurs,” said Rodillas. “She comes with an overflowing bottle of energy and she stimulates all of the employees here to get things done and to make this a better place.”
That includes joining her kitchen staff to whip up her popular homemade chili.
Thanks to Botelho, the YMCA’s restrooms are now Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and double its original size.
New fans keep gathering spaces cool and children have a safe and welcoming place to learn, socialize and tend to their garden.
“I wanted to have a place where the children could go outside, get themselves dirty and just have fun in the garden and learn about different vegetables, and how it goes from the garden to us eating it,” explained Botelho.
They’re not only growing vegetables here they’re growing community and YMCA’s membership – which has increased from 130 when Botelho came on board, to nearly 2,000 members today.
“The community is always something dear to my heart. I like to see people who are less fortunate do well,” said Botelho. “It fills me. The community, a lot of them have come here unfilled. And they leave here, they themselves are filled.”
“You’re friends on a neutral ground in a happy place and you’re making new friends, new ties in the community, and that’s a good thing for everybody,” Botelho further stated.
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Botelho will go to Los Angeles next month, where she will meet other local winners from across the country, and participate in a series of events.