A WIN-win Situation For Abused

Susan Page
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Wednesday - July 14, 2005
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Spend five minutes with Mary Scott-Lau and you’ll come away believing you could accomplish anything.

She is the poster person for hope. But not just pie-in-the-sky hope that leads nowhere — hope with results.

That’s why when board members of “Women In Need” (WIN), her brainchild and life work for the last 10 years, voted to honor Hawaii’s director of Health and Human Services, Lillian Koller, as WIN’s Woman of the Year, she was ecstatic. Scott-Lau believes Koller operates by her same result-based hope for Hawaii’s at-risk individuals and families by exposing problems and making meaningful corrections.

“Lillian Koller has taken a giant step in opening up government,” says Scott-Lau. “CPS was secretive before, everything was hush-hush and you couldn’t get information. Since Lillian’s appointment in January 2003, she has shed a light on everything, good and bad, including the tragic case of Peter Boy Kema that still haunts all of Hawaii.”

Koller will be honored at the inaugural “Celebration of Hope” luncheon where both she and Gov. Linda Lingle will speak.


Lingle counts tapping Koller to be Health and Human Services director as one of her smartest moves. Facing a department wrought with problems, including money shortages which stymied funding for vital programs, Koller has made changes that have a major impact.

For example, when Koller was appointed, there were 14,000 uninsured children in Hawaii.

“She simplified the lengthy, confusing MedQuest application to a one-pager and now 11,000 of those 14,000 are covered,” says Scott-Lau, who also lauds Koller for supporting Ohana Conferencing.

“It’s a proactive way of dealing with families in the CPS system by sitting everyone down, from relatives to advocates and counselors, to come up with positive solutions and realistic goals. WIN is an active participant in the conferences with our clients.”

Koller knows the issues of Hawaii’s at-risk citizens. On Maui, she was Second Circuit’s Drug Court Program Coordinator, and also served as Deputy Corporation Counsel and Maui County’s deputy prosecuting attorney.

Scott-Lau also knows the issues — from personal experience. Her mother was an alcoholic who committed suicide when Mary was 20 (she was raised by an aunt). Her brother, a long-time addict, whom Mary put through the Habilitat program, died of a heroin overdose just before his 37th birthday. And Mary herself was battered by an abusive boyfriend.

But “victim” is a word Scott- Lau reserves only for children. Children don’t choose neglect and abuse. Adults make choices. Through WIN, the first step is to own up to their bad choices. Then Scott-Lau instructs them in life skills: ways to look better, communicate effectively and be responsible. Only then can they take their place as productive members of society and break a generational cycle of abuse that often makes success seem hopeless.

Scott-Lau’s own story of hardship and success prepared her for what was to come. She spent years as one of Honolulu’s best local media sales account executives and also taught modeling and self-improvement to hundreds of Hawaii’s teens. Then in 1996, she had a change of heart. She saw a need. Women coming out of abusive homes, prison and drug rehab needed skills, the kind she knew how to teach, and WIN was born. Now 10 years and many growing pains later, WIN, working closely with other agencies, has helped hundreds of women reunite with their children, stay off drugs, get jobs and find hope.

In 1999, Brother Noland’s Lessons of Aloha featured Mary Scott-Lau as one who epitomizes the spirit of Aloha. She’s been recognized as one of Hawaii’s top 10 people to make a difference, and this year was featured in Japan’s Precious magazine as a “person making a difference in society.” Then last March she was honored as one of OC-16’s “Hawaii’s Heroes.”

And did I mention she’s a single mother of three boys, one of whom she adopted five years ago, after foster-parenting him for four years, as his birth mother tried unsuccessfully to rehabilitate?

If you want to be completely inspired, be surrounded by heroes — public servants, charitable leaders and WIN’s program graduates — make it to this “Celebration of Hope” luncheon July 21 at 11:30 at Lau Yee Chai Restaurant at the Waikiki Shopping Plaza (free validated parking). Erika Engle, the Star- Bulletin’s business writer and former radio personality, will emcee and $50 (tax deductible) buys you a delicious seven-course Chinese meal with proceeds going to WIN. Call 258-5706 for reservations and information.

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