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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 21, 2002

Children's trust to keep major facilities

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center will close up to six satellite offices on four islands in an effort to reign in costs amid investment losses of more than $3 million, but all 10 of its major facilities will remain open, said Claire Asam, center executive director.

Satellite offices in Kapa'a, Lahaina, Waimea on the Big Island and Waialua will be closed, Asam said. The center is negotiating with the landlords to also close offices in Waimea, Kaua'i and Pahoa, Hawai'i.

The Queen Lili'uokalani Trust, which provides health, education, counseling and other services for orphans and destitute children, announced last week that it needed to reduce its $18.8 million budget for 2003 by $3.6 million and would cut its staff by 49 positions, among other measures, to meet budgetary shortfalls.

But, despite the reduction in office space and staff, the center will continue to service its beneficiaries, Asam said. Eventually some programs will be eliminated, but not before an effort is made to find other organizations to take over for the center, she said.

"We're not going to drop them," Asam said. "We're not going to say, 'Tomorrow, we're out of here.' We're going to be working to transition, to look for other partners to see if we can find other people to help us."

For instance, the center's tutoring program for children after school or in the evening is one area where others could take over for the center, she said.

The center could take up to one year to complete its transition, Asam said.

Employees who are laid off will receive their last paycheck in March. Some have been offered early retirement incentives and all will receive severance pay.

The trust is also taking other measures to make up for some of the losses, including refocusing efforts on core services, reduction in program and operational expenses, elimination of 3 percent merit pay increases, 5 percent across the board pay cuts and cost sharing for medical premiums.

The center statewide served about 9,000 children in 2001, Asam said, adding that only about 7,000 will be served next year. Some 47 percent of the children served are on the Big Island with the greatest number in Kona. O'ahu has 20 percent of the center's beneficiaries, Maui and Lana'i about 23 percent, Kaua'i 6 percent and Moloka'i 3 percent.

Lili'uokalani, the last monarch of the Hawaiian Islands, created the trust in her will to benefit orphans and "destitute" children. She died in 1917.

The primary focus of the trust is orphaned children, children who have lost one or both parents to death, Asam said, adding that the center will serve as many of them as it can. The trust also aids destitute children, which is loosely defined as any child in need — whether financial, educational or cultural.

Although staffers face the possibility of losing their jobs, they worry more for the children in the programs, Asam said.

"The staff is pretty incredible," she said. "Their concern is for the children. They want to see services continue for the beneficiaries and, yes, we're committed to that."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.