I showed up at my clients’ homes every week to clean their pools and repair equipment. Little did they know I didn’t have a home of my own. For seven months, my family and I were totally dependent on local churches for food and shelter. This was in 2011, shortly after I exited the pool industry to try my hand at something new. The timing could not have been worse. I was born and raised in Kailua on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and got my first job in the pool service trade in 1982. In 1985, I moved to the mainland, worked at Nordstrom in Spokane, Wash., for a couple of years, then got back into the pool business, working for a swimming pool supply company in San Diego for nine years. I then operated a pool service business for 14 years.
Feeling homesick, I decided to move back to the Aloha State in 2010 with wife and two kids in tow. I had a job waiting for me as an independent sales rep for a company that produced a renewable energy product. However, the economy was still in the throes of the Great Recession, and this costly, high-end device wasn’t exactly selling like hot cakes.
To make matters worse, the high cost of living in my home state was proving to be a financial strain. I don’t doubt any study that says Hawaii is the most expensive place to live in the U.S. Homeownership is out of reach for many middle-class families, and landlords charge on average $2,000 a month.
Needless to say, my funds were tapped and my family and I were evicted. Fortunately, my sister was gracious enough to let us stay with her for a little while. In addition to hosting us, she also started a pool service company for me to run. She knew this was a trade I had significant experience in and, therefore, was my best chance of getting back on my feet. At the very least, she figured a pool service business was an opportunity for her husband, who was undergoing dialysis at the time, to ride along with me and get some fresh air.
While this helped generate a bit of income, we were still a long way from having the means to move into a place of our own. Not wanting to overstay our welcome, we checked into the Family Promise program.
Family Promise is a nationwide, nonprofit agency that enables working families to stick together in times of financial crises. By utilizing local resources, the program helps families become self-sufficient. In many cases, such as my own, churches agree to host families on a rotating basis. In our case, we stayed at a day house — there’s one in Kilauea and another in Honolulu — where we could shower and use a computer until a church would open its doors to us at 5 p.m. and offer a warm meal and a place to sleep.
Some accommodations were better than others. Sometimes we were in very close quarters where only hanging sheets provided a sense of privacy; sometimes we had our own room. Either way, we were just grateful to have a roof over our heads.
At the time our son, Sam, was 2 and our daughter, Maile, celebrated her fifth birthday with cake and presents provided by the church. We didn’t have the luxury of TV, so we played games and enjoyed the company of other families in the program. Because we were all in the same boat, so to speak, there was a real sense of community among us. We made friends and even came across a few old ones, one of whom was a childhood buddy of mine from Little League.
All the while, I worked my sister’s route and was a subcontractor to another pool pro in the area. It just so happened that he owned an apartment building and agreed to let us move in once we could afford it. Then, another blessing: Catholic Charities gave us enough for a down payment.
After seven months in the Family Promise program, we finally moved out. I started my own business, Island Shores Pool Service, shortly after that. My wife, Malin, worked for a local coupon book publisher and the owner let me advertise at a generous discount.
Today, business is good. I've been so busy that I haven't taken a vacation since I began servicing pools in May 2011. I'm a proud member of the Swimming Pool Association of Hawaii, which offers insurance and route coverage benefits. I have 29 accounts and continue to do a little subcontracting on the side while helping with my sister’s business. Sadly, my brother-in-law passed away. My sister is now my copilot on her route every Wednesday.
I’ll always be grateful to Family Promise. Without the hospitality of local churches, I’m not sure what we would've done. That’s why I volunteer there, helping families move or picking up donation items. Because my story received local media attention, I’m almost a regional spokesman. At any rate, I’m happy to serve in any capacity I’m needed.
Today, I keep a picture of the futons we used to sleep on in those church hallways and gymnasiums as a reminder of how far we’ve come.
As for the future? My wife and I see homeownership on the horizon.