Even Though the Whole World Is Burning


Here is a clip from Even Though the Whole World Is Burning: The Wildness


Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin has won almost every major poetry prize that exists, including two Pulitzers. His legacy is based not only upon his writings, however, but also the singular form of environmental activism and land stewardship he embodies. Now in his 87th year, Merwin has dedicated over three decades to preserving and regenerating native plants and palms on a 19-acre site on the north shore of Maui. The preserve, called the Merwin Conservancy, with over 800 species, holds the most comprehensive private collection of palms in the world. These tangible actions for the environment go hand-in-hand with his poetry, offering important insights for an era marked by environmental degradation, human disconnect with natural processes and rapid climate change. The film is an intimate portrait of a vibrant, humorous and challenging man who is often called a “national treasure.”




On March 8, 1971, a band of suburban parents, university professors and community leaders broke into a small FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. Calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, the eight activists took hundreds of secret files and shared them anonymously with select members of Congress and the news media. By doing so, they uncovered evidence of the FBI’s vast and illegal regime of spying on and intimidating American citizens. Despite one of the largest investigations ever conducted, the FBI never solved the mystery of the break-in, and the identities of those responsible remained a secret – until now. For the first time, the members of the Citizens’ Commission have spoken out. This film tells their story.


Part 2 of 3


Join New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and Alfre Woodard as they meet activists fighting for women’s rights in West Virginia, Colombia and Haiti.

Nanci Kreidman


Original air date: Tues., Oct. 4, 2011


Advocating for Victims of Domestic Violence


Leslie Wilcox talks story with Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center. A New Yorker who moved to Hawaii over 30 years ago, Kreidman opens up about the people she advocates for and how they’ve affected her along the way.


Nanci Kreidman Audio


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I haven’t been a victim of child abuse, or spouse abuse, or sex abuse. I am just a woman who kind of fell in love with the idea of bringing liberation and freedom to families. I haven’t had any personal experience that would inspire me to be on this journey.


Community activist and advocate for those living with domestic violence, Nanci Kreidman, next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. For the last three decades, Nanci Kreidman has committed her professional life to ending family violence in Hawaii. Domestic violence is often a hidden tragedy. Nanci has worked hard to bring public awareness to the issue and to establish innovative support programs. Along the way, she’s seen terrible things that can never be erased from her mind’s eye, and she’s been part of many success stories as survivors find happier lives. She presses on with a relentlessly positive outlook, and the belief that social change is within our reach. Nanci Kreidman is currently the chief executive officer of the nonprofit Domestic Violence Action Center in Honolulu. Born and educated on the East Coast of the United States, she grew up in a sports-minded household with her brother and parents in Englewood, New Jersey.


I come from a two-parent working family. My mother was kind of an executive assistant to management in various places; Rockefeller Center I. My father owned a shoe business in Manhattan. So we were kind of your average middleclass, living in what I thought at the time was a diverse community.


And were your parents role models for the way to behave in a domestic relationship?


Not really; not really. They did the best they could, but I don’t think they had the personal resources, really, to take themselves to intimacy or close partnership. And I think that’s because of the families they came from. But they did a pretty good job. My brother and I turned out pretty good. So, I think are were some things I could borrow. One thing that comes immediately to mind is my parents, when they would have a fight or get mad, it would be silent, it would be the silent treatment for sometimes weeks. Which was very hard.


That’s a long time.


Yeah, it was very hard. And when my daughter was a baby, small child, she would escalate into like a wild child rage, and then it would be over like that. And I remember saying to my husband, Oh, isn’t that incredible, anger doesn’t have to last so long. It’s kind of like a fleeting—it can be a fleeting emotion. And that was life-altering for me.


When you were ready to leave the home, or go off for schooling, where did you go?


Well, I went first to Washington, DC, which was pretty exciting, but not the right fit for me. And then, I went to Rutgers, in New Jersey, the state university.


To study what?


I studied communication and journalism, and psychology. Which I use a lot. [CHUCKLE]


You do. And did you know that this is the way you were going to use those—


No. No, I had no idea. I had no idea. I started out working a little bit in the cable television business, which was pretty popular in the 1970s when cable was first gaining momentum. And so, I worked for the Public Utilities Commission for a little while, regulating cable television. But I was working at a community action program, and so we did a lot of production of television documentaries. I was a young woman, and I thought, I don’t want to live here my whole life, and if I don’t leave now, I’ll never leave, I’ll get stuck here. So, where can I go, where I can do what I like to do the most? I’m a big outdoors person; I swim, I ride my bike, I like to camp and hike. And so, I thought, I’m gonna go to Hawaii. So—


Had you been there before?


No, I’d never been here before. No. It was pretty thrilling, and a little scary. Biggest part was the thrill. I got on the plane with my bicycle, and my camp trunk. I used to go to camp when I was child. I checked into a hotel for a few days, and I started looking for a place to live. And I rented a room in Manoa. And then, I started working in Waikiki, which is where everybody starts working. So I was working at the International Marketplace. So I’d ride my bike from Manoa to Waikiki, and back.


Did you feel comfortable right away living here?


I felt … it was a little confusing for me. I thought I grew up in a diverse community; it was fifty percent Caucasian and fifty percent African American. I thought that was a mixed community. And then, I got here, and I was like, Wow!


We’re truly mixed.


This is really diversity. So that was a little—I didn’t know too much about Asian culture, or I don’t think I knew anybody Asian, really. So, that was pretty thrilling, but a little unnerving, ‘cause I didn’t know how to fit in. But right away, I liked that I was different, and that it was different. I’m kind of a city person. So I loved that on one side of the street was the ocean, ‘cause I’m a water person. And across the street is like, Waikiki and buildings, and hotels, and so it was sort of combination of both. Since I came from Manhattan, I kinda liked both.


While in New Jersey, Nanci Kreidman helped create one of the nation’s first shelters for battered women. In Hawaii, she continued to focus her energy on fostering public awareness to stop the emotional turmoil and deadly violence associated with domestic abuse.


And so, when I got here, I thought, Hm, wonder what they’re doing about domestic violence here? ‘Cause I was just becoming aware of the issue before I departed home. And of course, they weren’t really doing anything here, like they weren’t doing anything across the country. So I started working at the only existing shelter at the time.


Where was that?


That was in Kalihi. And so, I worked the weekend shift from Friday night to Sunday night. And, really, two things happened for me. I mean, I wasn’t working at the shelter thinking, Oh, this will be my career, this is great. I just was kinda living in the moment. This is good work, I feel good about it, this is important. But while I was there that first year, a couple of things happened that were life-altering for me. One was, they would send me out whenever they got invitations to speak about domestic violence, because I was the one with the communications degree, and they figured I could talk. So, I would go, and I would bring the only existing film that the shelter owned, and it was a mainland produced film. And it had all White people, and maybe one Spanish person, and one Black person the film. And I could see that the community I was with looked at the film thinking, I don’t know anybody like that. And I started thinking to myself, well, if we’re gonna talk about this issue, we’re gonna have to talk about it in a way that makes sense for this community. So, I teamed up with a director, and we wrote a small grant to produce a locally originated documentary; we called it Too Many Lickins, Spouse Abuse in Hawaii. And it was aired on Public Television, and we circulated it a lot, and it began the conversation here. But the other thing that happened was Sunday morning, the women would get up, very enthusiastic about a search for a new place to live for them and their kids. So everybody would be out with a newspaper, and they’d get on the bus, and you know, circle things in the paper of places that they were gonna go look at to see about relocating to get away from the abuse by their partner. And then, by Sunday afternoon, they’d come back, and maybe they’d start packing up their suitcases or their bags, and say they were going home.


Home to the abuser?


Home to the abuser; yeah. And that made me very nervous, because I fully understood that there was nothing that could have changed between the time she left and when she was going back. But the barriers to her finding a new place to live without any money or without any transportation, or too far from her kids’ schools, or whatever it was, was a big enough obstacle that she had to go home. So, I teamed up with a social worker friend of mine, and we wrote a different small grant, and started Broken From Batterers, called Komo Mai.


Before that, there were programs for women, but not for male abusers.


There weren’t any programs, really. There was just this one shelter. We hadn’t yet gotten to the place at the community level, where there were community-based programs or specialized support groups, or anything like that yet. And so, this was the first specialized program, and we really just made it up.


Were they court-ordered abusers, or were there batterers who said, Hey, I’d like some help, I’m seeking this help?


They were not seeking the help. We tried to reach out to community clinics and mental health programs, and social service agencies, and also the courts, and tried to advocate for the courts to mandate participation. Which they did. They could see the wisdom of that, and they could see the importance of requiring somebody to participate. But it was slowing going. We didn’t really have the capacity to help lots and lots of people anyway. It was kind of an experiment. But it planted the seeds here in Hawaii, anyway. And of course, we didn’t realize this at the time, but this is what was going on all across the country. So our challenge was really to get them to shift their behavior, and to shift their thinking that they had the right to hit somebody out of a desire to make them do what they wanted them to do.


I read years ago that this type of counseling just isn’t that effective, that it doesn’t permanently change behavior.


Well, the data on effectiveness is very mixed. It takes a lot to change behavior. Anybody who’s ever tried to go on a diet or exercise more—


Quit smoking. Sure.


Quit smoking, stop biting their nails, whatever their thing is, it takes a lot of personal discipline, it takes a lot of commitment, and it takes a lot of reinforcement to stay on the path. So without that, it’s very easy to kind of keep acting like, well, it’s her fault, if she didn’t this or if she didn’t that, or if I had a better offer, if I didn’t. So it’s a lot of ways to minimize or excuse the behavior. We still have so many barriers in the path, for survivors anyway, to get to the place where they’re self-sufficient. And until we as a community understand that everybody has the right to live fee and safe, and we make that path wide open, and we invite people to live that way, they won’t be able to. They will be forced to go back, and they will face their own community sanctions and their own religious sanctions, and their own personal and emotional ambivalence about what they’ve done, what they’re doing. And if we continue to perpetuate the ideas that children are better off with two parents, and it’s your fault, or somehow you’ve done something to provoke this, then it’s gonna be difficult. And, I mean, I want to say I’d like to be here today to say that that mythology has vanished, but it really hasn’t. That people are still, despite what we’ve done here, there’s a lot to be proud of, for all of us who’ve been working in the community, media, policymakers, service providers, we’ve made a lot of progress. But I continue to be amazed that people hold onto the same myths and misconceptions about who’s done what to whom, and who deserves it, and why it happens, and this only happens to Brown people in Palolo, or people who use drugs, and we’re still dispelling those misconceptions. And we just have to keep encouraging people and inviting people to get involved, because it is everybody’s business. What’s happening in your workplace or your neighborhood, or your family belongs to all of us.


Nanci Kreidman credits her friends and family with providing opportunities for her own personal growth. She met her husband, Bernie Paloma, a firefighter, at a Downtown block party celebration. He invited her to visit his fire station in Manoa Valley, which just happened to be located along Nanci’s daily bike route to work. Couple of weeks later, she stopped by, and was invited to stay for dinner at the station. The rest is history, and as of the day of our conversation in 2011, the couple has been together for twenty-eight years.


My husband is very, very different than I am. He’s a local male, quiet, who’s sort of got the balance going of introversion and extroversion.


What does local mean?


Well, he’s Filipino, from a large Filipino family. Grew up in Kalihi, nine children. And so, I have been able to understand local culture, and Filipino communities in Kalihi, in big families in a way that was really a precious opportunity for me, ‘cause I could take that with me out into the community. Because in order to communicate with him, it was like practice of how to communicate with the wider community, and with his family. I mean, his parents, they loved me and welcomed me immediately.


Soon, it was Nanci Kreidman and Bernie Paloma, plus two; they had a daughter and a son. One day, Nanci learned that State Child Protective Services was seeking a permanent home for an eleven-year-old girl. Her children were reaching adolescence, and she thought, What’s one more?


So I went home and mentioned it to Bernie, and he was open to the idea. And I thought, well, gosh, what do you do then? And so, I asked the attorney who was the guardian and whether we could meet her. Which is unheard of. I mean, you don’t usually do that, you just get a foster kid, and that’s kind of the beginning of the relationship or the moment the person joins the family. But to me, that just seemed—how do you do that? You have to at least meet this person. So Bernie and I had lunch with her; she seemed perfectly fantastic. And so, we talked it over with the kids, that we had met this girl and we were thinking about having her join our family, and how did they feel about it. And they were interested in the idea, but of course, it was difficult to absorb. And then the four of us had Sunday dinner together, and sorted it out among ourselves, like how did we feel about it. And it was thumbs up all around. So she joined our family when she was eleven, and she’s in between my biological children. Again, it’s been a treasure having her in our lives, and it’s a challenge. I mean, you don’t just join somebody else’s family. I mean, one day, she doesn’t know us at all, and we don’t know her. And then the next day, she’s a member of the family. So we had to like rework all of our—how do we relate to each other, how do we make room for her to join the family, what were the relationships between them. I mean, it was obviously, it was a life-altering opportunity, and a way for us to do more of what we were already doing, the ways in which we were, you know, giving to the community. My husband was a fire captain, so he was a man of service as well as I. So we brought that service into our family.


And how does your family feel about your role in working against domestic violence? Do they comment on it, are they with you on it? Do they get sick of hearing about it?


Well, I mean, it’s very much a part of our lives, obviously. It depends on many thing—I mean, there’s many moving parts. I’m always pointing things out, I’m always noting things that are going on. I have invited them to participate in many, many ways. Everybody in the family, nieces, nephews, children, have been in posters and flyers and materials. They are with me a hundred percent, and that’s what’s made it possible. There’s no way I could have given myself over to this journey without them being there with me.


Over time, you’ve become close, you’ve seen in many different lights some of the people who’ve suffered abuse, and have been again and again in those situations. Do you go home hoping nothing happens to them that night? I mean, is it something that you take with you? Is it an anxiety producing thing to know that they’re constantly in danger, or possible danger?


I’ve had to figure out along the way how to tap into my compassion, and my service, without being consumed by my anxiety about people’s wellbeing.


That must be a very tough call for you. I mean, it’s a boundary that’s very opaque.


It was much harder before, than it is now. I mean, now, I don’t work with people as directly as I used to. I mean, I have run hundreds and hundreds of batterers groups, and hundreds and hundreds of victim support groups, and that was harder. But that’s when I really had to teach myself, otherwise I would have been a wreck, and I wouldn’t have been useful or effective, grounded at all. And I know people always ask me that, Well, how do you do this? And I don’t know that I’ve got a formula exactly, or even a way for you to do it.
But you’ve been able to last so long, and be so strong, because somehow, you can tilt your world.


Well, I try to take very good care of myself. I swim every day, I go out into the jungle, you know, in Manoa, or Makiki, or you know, up Mariner’s Ridge, or someplace where it’s sort of quiet, and bigger than I am, and vast. You know, the sky is vast, or the ocean is vast. And it helps me to put things in perspective. And I rest well, I eat well, I surround myself with loving family and friends. I mean, I really try to stay whole myself. I know this all sounds sort of corny, but that’s kinda how I do it.


Because otherwise, it would just eat—


It would eat me alive. Yeah.


Because there are some stories that are just—I mean, it’s hard to even recite the details, because they’re so horrific.


Well, the ones that probably have been the most torment for me are the women who I’ve gotten close to, who are mothers, who have lost their children to domestic violence. And the ragged grief they feel, and the helplessness, and the hopelessness that they feel, that I do have a little bit of difficulty … walking away from their suffering. And that kind of loss is something that you really, really cannot understand if it hasn’t happened to you. And so, to try to be present with somebody who is in that kind of suffering was also kind of art. It’s a very delicate subject, and most people are very, very uncomfortable with it. So I have had to learn a kind of grace, so that people will listen to me. And of course, when I first got here, and when I first doing this work … I mean, it doesn’t come naturally, really, to figure out. I mean, I’m thinking, well, I’m just telling the truth, just saying what I know and what I see, and people should be willing and amenable to listening to that. But of course, people all have their own capacity to hear the truth. So, I had to learn how to do that.


You’ve been so outspoken on the subject. Has it put you at risk?


We take our safety very seriously at the agency where I work, the Domestic Violence Action Center. Sometimes, I’ll be someplace, and somebody will come up to me and say, You’re Nanci Kreidman, aren’t you? And I will stop for a moment and think, Ho, I wonder if that’s a good thing. And so far, it has been. People have said, Oh, I was in your class when you taught at Leeward, or I was in your battered women’s group in 1982, or Thank you so much, or I was in your batterers group, you probably don’t remember me, and it changed my life.


But if you’re so needed, why doesn’t the community support you more?


Well, there’s a lot of competing needs, and this doesn’t resonate for everybody. I would like to live in a world where they would say this is number one. Because families are at the root of communities, and if our families are not well and not stable, and not whole, our communities won’t be. But that’s a hard message for everybody to digest. So, my fantasy would be that people are throwing money at us to do this, because the work is so hard. I mean, we are wiping up blood, sweat, and tears of the community, and that’s hard enough. But then having to beg for money to do it, some days it’s heartbreaking. You know how some kids or some young adults decide, This is what I want to do with my life. I never had that picture. So maybe the absence of that created the room for me to be the instrument that I have been.


You just followed the path and the doors, and looked for opportunities.


I just recognized opportunities when they presented themselves. It’s not quite so much I looked for opportunities. I mean, here’s an example. Way back when, I was, like I mentioned earlier, running batterers groups at the Waikiki Community Center. I did the paperwork, and set up all the appointments from my home, and then I would go to the center to run the groups. And one day, after you know, months, Gerri Lee, who was the director of the Waikiki Community Center at the time, came to me and she said, It looks like this is a fantastic program, and it would really benefit from having a program home, an agency, an organization to support it. Why don’t you consider bringing Komo Mai and Maluhia O Wahine to the Waikiki Community Center, and they can become programs of the Waikiki Community Center. And that was perfect. I mean, how could I possibly have continued to do what I was doing all by myself? I needed an institution, I needed an organization. And so it was kind of like that, all along the way.


Some nonprofit leaders move from one agency, one worthy cause, to another. Nanci Kreidman’s cause has always been ending domestic violence. In 2010, the YWCA of Oahu honored Nanci Kreidman as a community leader deserving special recognition. Nanci believes that her work is innately rewarding, giving her a spiritual benefit that’s transformative and life-enriching. In 2011, the year of this conversation, she continues to engage and collaborate to create social change, and provide critical services through the Domestic Violence Action Center. Mahalo piha, Nanci Kreidman, for sharing your Long Story Short. And thank you, for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


Abusers and perpetrators, they’ve got a lot to hide, and they’ve …


They’ve learned how.


They’ve learned how, and they’re very charming, and they can be very persuasive. And so, I mean, sometimes I’ll go into a place and I’ll think, mm … that’s not a good guy. And then other times, somebody I’d never pick out would be somebody who—and believe me, that has happened thousands of times. I don’t go anyplace anymore where somebody doesn’t come up to me and say, My first husband, my mother, my auntie, my next door neighbor, my daughter, my coworker. I mean, no place; I go almost no place now where somebody doesn’t feel like they want to share that with me. Which is a remarkable thing.


Patti Lyons


Original air date: Tues., Dec. 28, 2010


Protecting Hawaii’s Abused and Neglected Children


Patti Lyons has been showered with awards this year – recognizing her nearly half-century of devotion to her work in child welfare. But this social worker’s tireless efforts to protect Hawaii’s abused and neglected children weren’t always appreciated. Lyons spent years battling a state bureaucracy while working directly with countless families to prevent abuse. Her persistence paid off and Lyons’ achievements include helping to establish state Child Protective Services, Hawaii Healthy Start and the Consuelo Foundation which serves children in Hawaii and the Philippines.


Patti Lyons Audio


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I mean, when it’s your life’s work and you want to leave the world a better place for kids, especially the most vulnerable kids, you really stick with it. You don’t give up.


Patti Lyons brought her passion for protecting children to Hawaii in the 1960s, and she would make a lasting impact on countless Hawaii families, as well as the State’s Child Welfare system. Lyons fought nonstop over nearly five decades to prevent abuse and neglect, and ensure that every child has a safe home. Her story’s next, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou; I’m Leslie Wilcox. It’s hard to estimate how many lives have been touched by Patti Lyons, either directly through her casework, or indirectly through the policies she champions. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll hear the inspirational and sometimes heartbreaking story of this social worker who’s devoted her life to the wellbeing of children who had nowhere else to turn. Patti Lyons helped establish important safety net programs like Child Protective Services and Healthy Start. But they didn’t come easily; her crusade has demanded decades of persistence as Lyons battled not only the evils of abuse, but a bureaucratic system resistant to change.


Almost all of your adult life, you’ve been protecting children, and advocating for children. What was your own childhood like?


Well, my own childhood was in a little town called Ellettsville in Indiana. And I grew up with my grandmother and my grandfather, until he died. It was a very good life, even though we were quite poor.


Now, where were your parents?


Well, my mother was quite young when I was born. She had eloped with my father, who was somewhat older. And it just didn’t work out for them. It was unheard of, almost, to get a divorce in those times, but they did. My mother was just too immature at that time to take care of me.


So you lived in a very small town with your grandmother and grandfather, and you didn’t have a lot, but was it a happy childhood?


It was happy. Because my grandmother—you’ve heard of unconditional love. Well, my grandmother gave me unconditional love, and so did my grandfather. I mean, they would have done anything for me.


What of them do you think you took with you, as you progressed in life?


Well, it was my grandmother who was the strong person. She was the one who said, Don’t ever give up. I mean, that stayed with me all my life. The only time I’d ever gone out of Indiana was William Woods College, which is in Fulton, Missouri. It’s was a girls’ school then. And my grandmother had saved the money all those years, to send me there.


Did you have a plan when you went to college? Did your grandmother have advice for you about what she’d like to see you do, or did you have your own ideas about what you were gonna do?


She wanted me to be a teacher. So I took a job in Knightstown High School, teaching high school students for two years. And that made her happy. She was happy about that.


But Patti Lyons already knew she wanted to be a child welfare worker. The teaching job was short-lived, but pivotal, since one of Lyons’ female students would fuel her passion for her future career. The girl was so traumatized, that she couldn’t give an oral book report in class.


She came to me one day after school, and told me about the abuse she was having in her own family. And she said that she would hide under the bed when she knew her mother was very angry. And her mother would come with a broom handle, and her mother would go like this under the bed. And it would, of course, hurt Joan a lot. And she said, that could she just write her book report. So I asked the class. I said, Look, we’ve been through this two or three times now; could Joan just give the book report in writing? And they agreed. So that’s how she passed the class. Then, I was directing a play, and she applied. She came in and said she wanted to apply for a role in the play. I gave her the lead. She did very well in the play, because she didn’t play herself; she played a mother. Then, I was leaving that year. I was not gonna teach anymore. She begged me to stay. And I said, Joan, you’ll be okay, because the teachers have seen what you can do now; you’ll be all right. I found out from my neighbor, who was the head of a mental hospital, about two years later, she said, Oh, you taught in Knightstown High School, didn’t you? She said, We had a girl commit suicide over the weekend. And I said, Who? What was her name? And she told me, Joan.




And she said, She drank a quart of tequila and was on her medications, and they couldn’t revive her. That made me feel so guilty. Because I thought she was gonna be okay. And I said, From now on, I’m gonna do what I want to do, and that is to help abused children. And that has been my life since. That was in 19, let’s see, I graduated with my master’s in social work in ’61.


That had been your bent before, but that solidified the goal?


That solidified it.


Now, you say you felt guilty. But do you think you could have prevented that?


Maybe not prevent it, but she asked me to pay attention to her. She asked me, Please, don’t leave. Well, I had to leave, but I could have written her. She wrote me. I still have her letter someplace, that she wrote me. I have it at home someplace. And that’s how much it’s meant to me all these years.


I would think that that might also convince you that you were headed into a career where you would have many regrets, and a lot of guilt. Is that what happened?


Well, that’s true. I feel like I’ve never been able to do enough for these kids, especially when they end up in a vegetative state, when they’ve just—or they’ve died. I just feel somehow responsible.


How can you live with that? I mean, you can’t control everything, and as you worked in social services, there were never enough people, and there are probably fewer now to do the work. How do you live a personal life, knowing that there are all these risks out there in the form of children?


You finally do have to say, I can’t do it all, there’s no way I can do it all. I can’t prevent every child from being hurt. You just keep on trying.


After earning her master’s degree in social work from Indiana University, Patti Lyons worked for Indiana’s State Department of Public Welfare. Then, in 1965, she followed her husband to Hawaii, and found a job with Child and Family Service. While the marriage did not last, the job did.


When I went in for the job interview, the director at that time said, Well, we’ll give you this nice job out here in the back. We have new offices, and you’ll be seeing middle income and upper income people, and a lot of them will be military officers and their wives. And I said, Well, do you have anything else? She said, Oh, there’s this place way out here on the coast that they’re saying that they give to Aloha United Way, and that they should get some of the services out there


Where was that place?


Waianae. And it did have the highest, child abuse rate at that time. I don’t know what it is today. But she tried her best to talk me out of it. She said, Look, they have no transportation out there, they have no welfare office, they have no doctors, they have no dentists, it’s the highest crime rate in the island, and they’re mostly Hawaiians and they hate Haoles. I said, I’ll take that job. [CHUCKLE] But she said, They’re not gonna work with you. You’ve got this white skin, and you came from Indiana, and hey, it’s not gonna work. Well, within three months, I had a long waiting list of mostly Hawaiian, part-Hawaiian families. So I ran into many, many abused children. And I knew I couldn’t live with myself unless I did something about it.


But Patti Lyons quickly discovered that by doing something, she would be butting heads with an entrenched bureaucracy. She began what would become a battle, when she requested a meeting with officials of the State Department of Human Services.


I presented all my cases that I had sent to them. When I was leaving, because I saw nothing was happening, they said something like, Well, your philosophy is just different from ours. And I said, How is that? They said, Well, we believe in keeping children with their own families.


Even if their own family is abusing them?


Yes. So as I was leaving, I turned around, and I said, Well, we’re gonna go higher. And that was the way the conversation ended. When I got back to the Methodist Church, in the little kitchen where thirteen of us were on this first committee, I said, What does higher mean?




‘Cause I had no idea what we were gonna do. But we went to the legislator out there, Francis Wong, at that time, a started working on developing a Child Protective Service Center.


What was in place, as far as the safety for children at that time, in the late 60s?


Well, I don’t think there was anything. I’ll tell you the crux of it for me was that a girl came in one day, crying, and saying that her stepfather was sexually molesting her, when her mother would deliver papers in the morning.


How old was this girl?


This girl was about twelve at that time. And she said, I don’t want to go home, please don’t make me go home. So that’s the day that I called and said, You get out here to DHS, because this girl should not go home. She should go to a shelter of some sort, or a foster home, but not home. A male worker came out, the first time I had ever known to happen with all the cases I’d had, and the mother told him, Oh, it was a poltergeist that did it. And he said, The girl should go home.


What did you do, then?


I cried. [CHUCKLE] I mean, I just cried. Because I didn’t know what else to do. She went home. Home. And she ran away, I don’t know how many times. But she ended up in a foster home. And that case hit the newspapers. Francis Wong talked about that case often, and said, No, we have to establish—we have to have better laws, and we have to establish a center for these kids.


Persuading lawmakers and the news media to pay attention was a breakthrough for Patti Lyons. But some of her fellow social workers and higher ups at Child and Family Service were wary, even hostile to Lyons and her cause.


I was scared every day I was gonna be fired. Because as she told me, the boss at that time at Child and Family Service, she said, We didn’t send you out there to make waves


Did you have a fallback plan; if they fire me, then this?


I didn’t have a fallback plan. I just knew it had to happen. It had to happen. And the first hearing that we had at the Legislature, three hundred people came in, filled the room. In that year, ’67, there were sixty-nine children statewide reported. And the next year, there were over a thousand. Because we kept it in the newspapers. Every day, it was in the newspapers.


And did all those children get some help? Did the government then respond?


Yes, because we established a Child Protective Service Center. It was there at the old Children’s Hospital on Kuakini Street.


So you had to square off against your own coworkers, and the government who had a duty to protect children.


That’s right. That’s right. And that’s hard. Because, hey, we all like to be loved, or at least liked.


And did you falter at that point? Did you think, Whoa, maybe I’m the one who’s off base here?


No. ‘Cause I had seen the kids. I had seen the burned kids. I had seen the battered kids. I’d seen the bruised kids. I’d seen them all. So, no, I wasn’t about to give up.


And so you eventually rose to head the agency.




Child and Family Service; and you saw the state government create a Child Protective Services Division.


Yes; yes.


But life didn’t go on happily ever after. There were continuing challenges.


There were. And every time, we would go back, we would establish a committee if we needed to, you know, to get in there and fight some more.


All of this time that you were advocating for neglected and abused children, you were raising a couple of kids yourself.


I had two sons; yes.


And you were a single mom?


Yes; m-hm.


How did that go?


Well, that’s hard, especially a mom with sons. And it was a rough time for me. I think it was a rough time for them. Because I didn’t have that much to give. Between what I was doing with abused children, and had to work, had to support them, and I wanted to do this work anyway, and then taking care of them and it was not easy.


Make any mistakes as a parent that you’d care to share?


I think that I was overly committed to what I was doing for abused children. And I think I missed a lot of good times with my kids.


While Patti Lyons managed heart-wrenching abuse cases, the battle of bureaucracy, and struggle to raise her sons, she also faced down cancer four times.


The first cancer I had was that year that I moved here in ’65. I had an operation in Indiana; it was thyroid cancer. And then 1986, I had a diagnosis of breast cancer. And I’ve had a lot of skin cancer all along; that’s always been a given. And then in 2003, I had a diagnosis of bladder cancer. But, I always just did what I needed to do, and got over it, and it didn’t linger or bother me like, Oh, it’s gonna come back, or something like that. And so far, it hasn’t.


After more than two decades at Child and Family Service, Patti Lyons was unexpectedly drawn to a new endeavor, one that would expand her efforts beyond Hawaii, and consume the rest of her career. It started with a work trip in 1987 to the Philippines. That’s where Lyons learned about the plight of Filipino street children, who were starving, homeless, and were being sexually molested. Lyons returned to Hawaii with a mission to help. Her desperate fundraising appeals led her to a wealthy Kahala widow with ties to the Philippines, Mrs. Consuelo Zobel Alger.


So the next morning, she called and she said, Hello, dear. I thought, Oh, well, that sounds good. And she said, I have your first fifteen thousand dollar check. Now, how much is this shelter gonna cost per year, anyway? And I said, It’s gonna cost fifty to fifty-five thousand US per year. And she said, Oh, I can manage that. That was the beginning. One day, she said, Dear, I’ve never had any children of my own, and now, I have forty children. I think I might like to do this forever, but I have no idea how much I’m worth. I own five percent of the oldest and largest company in the Philippines; it’s my family’s company. But I don’t know, maybe I’m worth seven million, maybe ten. I might even be worth fifteen. When she left all of her shares in that company to the foundation that she then established, she was worth a hundred and fifty million.




And she gave all that to us. Now, she had some jewelry, she had some property that was sold, and that went to nieces and nephews, and that kind of family. But all of the shares came to us.


I can tell that as soon as you embraced the Baguio children, you were on the move. But how did it end at CFS?


Well, at CFS I had always had a pile of paper almost up to my nose in front of me. And handling personnel problems, and ‘cause every place has them. And I thought, Oh, I want to do something different.


You wanted to be closer to the people you were serving.


Yes. I wanted to look people in the eyes again, and I wanted to know what’s going on with them. So I’d been thinking about it. But then here this is. Now, I call it a miracle. First, she said, I will pay half your salary at Child and Family Service, and I will fund a program there if they will let you come and help me establish this foundation. So she did a program in Hawaii. In fact, she did one in Waianae; she funded it. The more I saw what could be done, what could be built, I thought, Oh, wow, I wonder if she wants me to help permanently. Well, then when she became ill, she said, I’m not gonna be able to follow through with this, so would you take the job fulltime? And I said, Yes. [CHUCKLE] It was so good to get back with the kids again, with the families, and do something in that country that nobody else was doing. These are kids who … they don’t have any resources, and their parents don’t have any resources. So they repackage cigarettes and things like that, to sell little leis as the cars pull up at the stoplights.


The scavenge at a dump, a huge dump.


At a huge dumps. Smokey Mountain, it was called then. Yeah; anything that they can get to sell, to earn enough for a little bit to eat.


What did you do for them?


For the ones who really were being sexually molested by the pedophiles, we established shelters. If they can live with their parents, they’re still in squatter areas. Meaning, the cardboard, the tin roofs. So we did some housing projects, small houses, but sewage. Because they always had raw sewage just running. And put in some sewage systems, some clean water. The fun part of the last twenty years has been the building; the building of that in the Philippines from north to south. We named it Consuelo, because her name in Spanish means, consolation or hope. And that’s what we were trying to give to people. She said, I want to spend my Heaven doing good on Earth, and I want to let fall from Heaven a shower of roses. And what matters in life, is not great deeds, but great love. You pattern my life after that, and you give hope to those who have lost it.


And that’s what you’re doing.


I hope so. I hope so. And I think so.


But you’ll never be done. The job is never finished. You’ll never be able to stop all the abuse.


That’s true. That’s true. And that pains me, because I wish it could be eliminated. I wish there could be an adult for every child, that gave that child unconditional love. There won’t be.


Have you come across somebody that you helped long ago, didn’t know the story would turn out, and had the chance to see that person again many years later?


I did. I did. And it was a person, a family from Waianae. They lived in a junkyard. The mother had abandoned the five children. And the father was depressed, very depressed, and also, you know, angry. So when I walked into that yard, saying that I wanted to work with them, he pulled out a shotgun, and he said, Don’t come any further. But he called me a little bit later, ‘cause I had left a card out there at the edge of the road. [CHUCKLE] And he said, Okay, I’ve decided to work with you. So I worked with that family for a long time. But this one girl was ten years old the time. I said, What would you like to be when you grow up? And she said, I’d like to be a nurse. And about fifteen years later, something like that, I walked into Straub to go to Dermatology, and I had my head down like this. I wasn’t paying any attention, ‘cause I had a headache, for one thing. And when I got into the room, in walks this beautiful young woman, and she said, Mrs. Lyons, do you remember me? And I said, How could I ever forget you. It’s things like that, that keep you going, no matter what.


Although Patti Lyons is officially retired, she remains on the board of the Consuelo Foundation, and continues to advocate for the health and security of children here and abroad. In contrast to the criticism she endured early in her career, Lyons has been honored repeatedly for her lifetime of service to Hawaii’s children and families. She hopes she’ll be remembered for giving hope to those who had lost it, and her story reminds us all of the power of one person to advance change and save lives. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


I used to stack up my dolls, my grandmother said, in a row like this, and I would have a chalkboard in front of them. And I would say, Now, you’re going to have to be good and do without me, because I’m going to New York tomorrow. And my grandmother always wondered, Where did she get this New York thing? Well, now I serve on a board, it’s called the Accreditation Council for Services to Children and Families, and I get to go three times a year.


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