By Darlene J. M. Dela Cruz
Hawaii Catholic Herald –December 7, 2012
The Pregnancy Problem Center on Maui, one of three volunteer-run centers operated by the pro-life Pearson Foundation that counsel against abortion, closed its doors in October after serving the Valley Isle for more than three decades.
“The community is saddened that they had to close,” said current Pearson Foundation president Ruth Prinzivalli. “It was very popular.” According to Prinzivalli, the Maui Pregnancy Problem Center ceased operations after its manager, Madeline Smith, developed health complications and could no longer volunteer her time. The center did not have any other volunteers available to replace Smith in an administrative capacity.
The Pregnancy Problem Center on Maui was founded by Robert and Mary Jane Pearson. The Catholic couple began the program after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion in the U.S.
The Pearsons sought to provide women with pro-life alternatives for unplanned pregnancies. With the help of friends and associates in their contracting business, the Pearsons opened the first Pregnancy Problem Center in Kihei. Volunteers were trained to provide emotional support, medical and adoption referrals, and various baby items for their clients.
The Pregnancy Problem Center was later relocated to Wailuku. In addition to providing services for pregnant women, its volunteers began visiting schools and parishes to promote a message of chastity to teens.
Eventually the Pearsons’ ministry spread across Hawaii. Volunteers were trained to run a center in Hilo, and two other centers were opened on Oahu. Robert Pearson also started the Mary Jane Home, a facility formerly in Kalihi named for his wife, which housed pregnant women in need.
The Mary Jane program is now administered by Catholic Charities Hawaii. The Pregnancy Problem Center in Hilo is no longer in service, but the centers on Oahu, located in Aiea and Honolulu, remain open.
The closing of the Pregnancy Problem Center on Maui is another bittersweet chapter in the history of the Pearson Foundation. While volunteers are grateful to have played a part in saving the lives of many children and counseling women in their most desperate hours, they are sad to see such a vital program lost on the Valley Isle.
Nevis de Laveaga, a former volunteer and Maui native, saw the impact the Pregnancy Problem Center had on her community. She said she assisted in 11 births and, along with other staffers, helped house and care for numerous women during and after their deliveries.
“All this was done with unpaid volunteers with great hearts,” de Laveaga said.
She ran the Maui Center until 1999, at which time Smith took over the managerial duties. De Laveaga, who moved to Kauai with her husband before recently transferring to the mainland, returned to the Valley Isle in October to officially close the center.
De Laveaga said her hope “is that anyone who has come to our center has taken away our love and info to share with someone else and save a mother and baby.” She extends her gratitude to all the community members and donors who helped keep the center alive since its inception.
There is still a possibility, she and Pearson president Prinzivalli said, that the center could reopen if the right person steps up to volunteer as a manager.