New Director of Filipino Community Center in Waipahu Seeks to Expand Reach While Respecting Traditions

Jeannie Lum grew up immersed in her Filipino culture. Whether it’s speaking Tagalog, cooking Filipino dishes or attending community events, she said it fuels many of her passions.

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

Lum, 39, was named executive director of the Philippine Community Center last month. Since then, she said she has been working to bring back popular center programs that were cut short 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 wanted to partner with more community groups, businesses and schools in the area, 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 with FilCom’s financial difficulties associated with the impacts of the pandemic shutdown.

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

Founded in 2002, the Filipino Community Center serves as a gathering place that provides social, economic and educational 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 Hawaii as a child. 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 FilCom. Through this work, she made connections and began participating and volunteering at other events.

Fast forward to this year, when Lum was named the center’s program director in April. And when the CEO job came up, she said she was happy to take it.

Edmund Aczon, longtime chairman of FilCom’s board, said Lum has been “on the radar” for a while. He pointed out that the executive director oversees everything from planning 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 person for the job.

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

“I definitely find myself instilling what my parents taught me and giving it to them, while 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 that people are able to understand that, whatever their age, whatever their generation.”

Jill E. Washington