Lava nearly claimed her home and COVID left her unemployed again, but she’s not giving up

Lava nearly claimed her home and COVID left her unemployed again, but she’s not giving up

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sitting in her jeep outside the Volcano House, where she used to work, Stacy Welch feels defeated. It seems like life just won’t give her a break.

When Volcano House was forced to shut down because of the pandemic, Welch lost her job.

It was tough, but Welch is no stranger to hard times.

“There is no guarantee. When it comes down to it you are responsible for your own self and the government will be there for some of it and not for others,” she said.

In fact, it’s been one hardship after another for the Puna resident in recent years.

[This story is part of a week-long series from HNN, “The Pandemic: A Year with Coronavirus,” exploring where Hawaii is and where it’s headed a year after the pandemic started. Click here for more coverage.]

In 2018, it was the Kilauea eruption. Rivers of lava covered her community of Leilani Estates, destroyed her neighbors’ homes and nearly took hers.

She was also laid off amid the chaos.

As the eruption quieted, and after spending weeks in an emergency shelter, Welch slowly started to rebuild her life. She went back to work a the Volcano House.

And then, in March 2020, her world turned upside down again.

“COVID. When is it ever going to end? It’s been crazy,” she said, speaking on a recent day.

“I have always worked two jobs my whole life, with the exception of being unemployed the five months during the eruption and then to have two years later ... to be off for another year and not knowing if unemployment is going to come through and where you are going to get your next food basket.”

Welch remains grateful for all she has and the hard work she’s put in bringing her property back to life.

“Once COVID hit we realized that we were going to need a place to work more of our plants we were doing lettuces and other things so I built a little greenhouse,” she said.

Welch’s daughter, Maddy, moved in with her and the two came to develop an entrepreneurial spirit, creating crafts and growing food to sell at local markets.

Her daughter was even able to find work down the road in Pahoa town from a person who’s been here for this community before.

Leslie Lai owns Kaleo’s, a popular restaurant in Pahoa. It’s hard for her to reflect on just how much she’s lost because of the pandemic, but she was in a position to help others and she did.

“We were so slow, but everyone was having problems with unemployment so I made the decision to keep the place open,” she said. “Just trying to keep the family together.”

Operating at a loss, Lai went even further to help her neighbors by working with local nonprofits to distribute food.

“We wanted to do something positive,” she said.

Those donations even made their way to Stacy Welch at times ― a helping hand to see her through some of the pandemic’s darkest days.

“It takes a hit on you ... when you have worked so hard your whole life,” she said.

Despite all she’s been through, Welch considers herself blessed. “There are so many people in a worse situation then I am,” she said.

And if the eruption and this pandemic have taught Welch anything, it is that it’s OK to ask for help.

It’s also important, she said, to look for the positives. The positives out of the pandemic?

“I’ve gotten to know both my kids so much more. I have met some amazing people here in the neighborhood that have helped me along the way,” she said.

So for now, she’ll keep working on her home as she waits for things to get back to normal.

“If we got our tours back and it was safe for everybody to come back and we went back to work, that is my ultimate goal,” she said. “And hopefully Pele lets us stay and COVID goes away.”

Copyright 2021 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.