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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 21, 2002

Investing in needs of the young

By Kapono Dowson
Advertiser Staff Writer

Susan Pearce held a job at Merrill Lynch taking care of clients that included corporations and foreign governments with portfolios worth nearly $4 billion.

Susan Pearce, new head of the Friends of the Children's Justice Center, supervises collections of goods requested by families of the victims of child abuse. Pearce gave up a job with Merrill Lynch to pursue her new priorities in life.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

But after some deliberation, she gave up that job to become the executive director of a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping abused children.

"This fits with what I as a Christian am led to do," said Pearce, the new executive director of the Friends of the Children's Justice Center. "This place has profoundly touched my life. I help make children whole again."

Pearce, who prefers not to be specific about salaries, said she took on her new job this month as "an act of love" and took a pay cut of about 70 percent. "You can't always measure compensation in money terms," Pearce said.

Friends of the Children's Justice Center of O'ahu was formed in 1986 to raise money to establish the center. The justice center opened on Pali Highway two years later.

The center provides a comfortable and friendly place where child-abuse victims can be interviewed. The center also works with agencies to provide the victims and their families with medical, counseling and legal services.

After the center opened, the Friends group decided to continue working to assist the children. It does so by collecting donations and arranging for doctors and other professionals to provide services to the youngsters referred by the center.

Last year, more than 1,250 youngsters benefited from the services of the Children's Justice Center of O'ahu, formerly known as the Children's Advocacy Center.

The Friends, formed in 1986, raised money to create the Children's Justice Center of O'ahu, in Nu'uanu.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Pearce moved to Hawai'i two years ago from Colorado, where the cold climate aggravated her respiratory problems. With Merrill Lynch for more than 16 years, Pearce had served as resident manager and assistant vice president. The company offered Pearce and her husband, Graham, consulting positions in Hawai'i'.

In Hawai'i, Pearce headed a Merrill Lynch division, which took her throughout the Pacific Rim to advise major corporations and foreign governments on pension, endowment, corporate and public funds. Her husband remains at Merrill Lynch as a chartered financial analyst and adviser.

When she first arrived in Hawai'i, Pearce went to the Hawaii Community Foundation to inquire where her business expertise could best be used. She became a mentor and a board member for the Friends of the Children's Justice Center and was later asked to head the group.

"Suzie brings a thoroughness to the challenge. It will be a great experience for us for someone with such a high degree of business sense to be involved with this human services situation," said Judy Lind, director of the Children's Justice Center.

Working with six volunteers, Pearce helps pack parcels of clothes, solicits donated services and goods, raises funds, answers telephones, takes care of budgets and helps to organize training workshops.

Pearce said the center's requests on behalf of the victims could be for basics — food, clothing, school supplies . Other requests are for things that could enhance the child's self-esteem — tutoring, orthodontia, a new toy or a prom dress. One teenager who never was allowed to play with dolls received Barbie dolls; one child had teeth fixed, Pearce said.

"Abused children don't think they deserve anything," Pearce said. "We want to send them a clear and powerful message from the community that you do count, you do matter."

For more information about the Friends of the Children's Justice Center of O'ahu, call 599-2955.

Reach Kapono Dowson at kdowson@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8103.