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HMSA Member News > Board Member ProfileWinter 2011 IS Magazine

Wellness as a Way of Life

Claire L. Asam is committed to service and staying healthy.

By Chance Gusukuma

Claire L. Asam speaks in calm, measured tones, and you sense her deep commitment to her work. After a 25-year career as an educator and administrator at Kamehameha Schools, Asam – who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa – served for eight years as the president and executive director of the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center. In 2007, she was named a Queen Lili‘uokalani trustee.

Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center is a 101-year-old social service agency established to improve the welfare of orphaned and destitute Native Hawaiian children. The center’s 155 staff members work statewide to help children and families in trying circumstances, so Asam was pleased when she and her leadership team were able to launch an employee wellness program in 2004.

The center offered employees a modest cost share for health and wellness purchases, such as weight management program participation fees and exercise equipment like athletic shoes. The leadership team also brought in guest speakers to talk about physical activity and healthful eating, and gave staff time off to work out, read, meditate, or simply re-charge their mental batteries. “The employees viewed the wellness program as a commitment to and support of their health,” Asam says.

The program also had a positive ripple effect on staff members’ interaction with client families. “Rather than providing cake for dessert, we served fresh fruit,” says Asam. “It’s these little steps that lead to bigger changes.” She recalls receiving a letter from a Neighbor Island physician who reported that one of the center’s employees who had participated in the wellness program had lost weight, no longer needed diabetes medication, and improved her overall health. “That’s the kind of results we had hoped to achieve. A healthy employee builds a stronger organization,” Asam says with a smile.

Asam currently serves on the boards of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center, ‘Imi Hale, and the Ho‘okako‘o Corporation. “It is our responsibility to serve and be models,” she says. “As members of the community, we lend our talents and time to improve our communities.”

Asam joined HMSA’s board of directors last year. She brings with her a multifaceted perspective, both as a member – she is a breast cancer survivor – and an employer. Her husband, Dr. J. Kuhio Asam, is a physician and executive director of Lunalilo Home and Trust and brings a provider’s perspective. Asam serves on the HMSA appeals committee. “It was a lot of homework, but I learned that HMSA really does care,” she says. “From the very first meeting, it was clear that the committee wanted to understand the member’s perspective and appeal.”

Exercise has always been part of Asam’s life. She has fond memories of childhood swimming lessons at the YWCA and swimming for exercise while attending college on the Continent. She and her husband have participated in North Shore swimming events, in addition to the annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim and a Tinman Triathlon. For almost two years, the couple has exercised with friends at 6 a.m., six days a week, using a popular high-intensity workout DVD. “It’s a great workout, and we are as a result, much healthier,” she says.

Over the past year, Asam’s two adult sons have returned to Hawai‘i after years on the Continent. So she has been able to enjoy more family time recently, especially with the arrival of her first grandchild. She enjoyed Mother’s Day with both sons for the first time since they were in high school 16 years ago. “It’s nice to have them home,” she says.

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