It’s been 10 years since Jessica Munoz first encountered a problem that most people are unaware is happening here in Hawaii —
sex trafficking of children, or to be blunt, that local under-age girls, some as young as grade-school age, are being sold and exploited for sex.
Munoz, a nurse practitioner, first learned of the issue while attending graduate school and saw it up close in her patients during shifts in the emergency room at Pali Momi Medical Center.
Munoz said her life was irrevocably changed by the knowledge of the issue and the encounters with sex trafficking victims. Five years ago she founded a nonprofit organization, Hoola Na Pua, to educate and raise awareness about the sex trafficking of girls in the Islands.
Now her vision for a residential treatment facility in Hawaii, where local girls as young as 11 who have been exploited and abused can reclaim their childhoods and heal, is coming into focus.
Pearl Haven will be unlike any other facility in Hawaii, a 20,000-square-foot 32-bed residential facility that brings mental and physical health services, social services and education under one, or in this case, two roofs, to serve victims of a crime most people don’t like to talk about or don’t even know exists.
And the road to its completion is unlike most nonprofit organizations’ capital improvement projects, with construction progress outpacing fundraising — while the project is halfway done, Hoola Na Pua is just nearly 50 percent to its $8.2 million goal. With $3.6 million already raised, Munoz and Hoola Na Pua must still raise $4.6 million to make Pearl Haven a reality.
Call to action While Munoz already has some heavy hitters backing the project with services and advice, she recently got a helping hand from the charitable arm organized by developer Duncan MacNaughton’s company, The MacNaughton Group, in the form of a $200,000 grant.
“It’s kind of a testament to Jessica that she’s just going to forge ahead and keep it going,” said Jeff Arce, president and vice chair of The MacNaughton Group. “People see what she’s doing.”
But the foundation is taking an extra step to help the project reach its goal. Last month MacNaughton hosted a small private event at Park Lane Ala Moana to introduce about three dozen of his friends — potential donors — to Munoz and the Pearl Haven project. Another private event is scheduled for later this month with a slightly larger group.
“I heard the pitch and I remember Jessica being surprised when I was partly through her slideshow and I said ‘I got it, I got it, tell me what you need,’” said Emily Reber Porter, vice president of The MacNaughton Group Foundation and chief operating officer of The MacNaughton Group. “Because we became so inspired by [Munoz’s] leadership and the need for this facility we decided we would invite some of our friends in the community to learn about the problem and the facility.”
Arce said the two-year-old foundation’s goal is to make gifts that will have an impact — such as the inaugural gift of $1 million to the U.S. Vets program at Kalaeloa — and noted that “in many cases it’s an organization that’s already doing a great job.”
“In this case, we felt we could really lend support to Jessica’s efforts in connecting her to other people in the community that would, or should, care and lend some support,” said Arce, who is also chairman of the Kapiolani Health Foundation, as well as the father of three daughters, ages 23, 19 and 15. “Creating a place for healing is critical and it’s important, but in some cases it’s like putting a Band-Aid on – you’re helping the girls but you’re not stopping the problem.”
Sobering statistics Munoz cites data from the state Department of Human Services that said there were more than 100 girls exploited for sex last year, “I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
“It definitely knows no socioeconomic boundary or barriers,” she said.
She also cited a September report commissioned by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women that attempted to measure the sex-buying population on Oahu and found a decoy advertisement for sex drew 756 contacts through text messages and phone calls from 407 unique phone numbers. Some 70 percent of those came from phone numbers with an 808 area code.
Hoola Na Pua was formed and granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service in 2014. For the first few years, it was staffed by all volunteers, including Munoz and her husband, Jeremy, and took in $1.56 million in contributions from 2014 through 2016, according to the organization’s 990 forms filed with the IRS.
Hoola Na Pua today has six full-time staff, three part-time staff, plus a team of consultants and more than 150 volunteers.
By the nonprofit’s second year, Munoz reported putting in 40 hours a week working with Hoola Na Pua — in addition to the 40 hours she worked at the hospital. She recently went on part-time status there, and still does not draw a salary for her role as president of Hoola Na Pua and her work to raise funds and oversee the construction of Pearl Haven.
When Pearl Haven is completed and licensed, it will need 50 to 60 people to staff it, including psychologists, case managers, social workers, nurses, teachers and facilities staff. The facility will have a capacity of 32 beds, but Munoz anticipates starting out with eight to 12 beds at first, then progressing up to 20 before operating at full capacity.
Munoz is working with Child & Family Service, which is already seeing trafficked girls show up in its programs, on the operation of the facility.
Karen Tan, president and CEO of Child & Family Service, said while Hoola Na Pua and Munoz have the passion to make Pearl Haven happen, they also recognize that they don’t have the expertise to run it on a day-to-day basis. Operations will be funded by several public and private sources, including insurance.
“Right now we’re just beginning conversations with experts on the Mainland and our staff locally to see how we would do that,” Tan said. “Either way we want to support the operations – it’s important that it be done with the highest quality and the best practices.”
Working together The project already has the backing of a number of local business leaders — Martha Smith, CEO of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children recently joined Hoola Na Pua’s board — and companies, including the architecture firm AHL, whose CEO, Bettina Mehnert, was an early supporter — to date AHL, another architecture firm, Design Partners, and several engineering firms have contributed some $800,000 in design and engineering work, all pro bono.
“She jumped in and got herself and her partners involved,” Munoz said. “We didn’t have any money — she took a huge step of faith.”
Mehnert had responded to a request for proposals for the project for her firm’s 1 percent program, which donates 1 percent of the firm’s annual workload in design work for a nonprofit organization’s capital improvement project. At the time, her daughter, Anna, was 11 years old and Mehnert said she was deeply moved.
“My partners are incredible because I vividly remember that meeting … sitting there saying this is a project we have to do pro bono and nobody said anything,” she said. “And then they said ‘what do you think that the fees on this will be?’ And I said, probably $700,000-$800,000.
“My partners were wonderfully supportive,” she said. They simply asked ‘what does it take to do this?’”
AHL partnered with Design Partners Inc. for the design work, and brought on Minatoishi Architects as the historical architect, and Insynergy and Kai Hawaii Inc. for engineering.
Landmark Builders is the general contractor on the project and has agreed to do the work in six stages. The project is fully funded through the first three phases, which are nearing completion, and Munoz said she’s raised about $600,000 of the $2.7 million needed for the fourth phase, which will include building the interior walls and the rough-in for mechanicals.
“That’s where the urgency comes because it’s under renovation,” she said. ”We don’t want to have to stop. We want to keep going. Every dollar we get in we keep going.“
A place for healing Munoz found the property for Pearl Haven through an advertisement in the newspaper in 2013 — the Department of Land and Natural Resources was looking for someone to lease the property and she submitted a proposal for Pearl Haven. In 2014, Hoola Na Pua was given a 40-year lease and a year later was awarded right of entry to the property. Out of concern for the safety of future residents, PBN will not disclose the exact address of the property and describe it only in general terms.
The location is remote and pastoral, two old state-owned buildings on 12 acres of land in a rural part of the island. The rural setting was deliberate — part of the healing is to take the girls away from where they are being exploited and bring them back to nature. Munoz plans to have goats and chickens on the property, as well as horses. A black-and-white dog who showed up after construction began has taken on the role of guarding the property and the pen where a caretaker’s dog is kept during the day.
The buildings are old — one was built in 1952 and the other in 1974, but they were well constructed. So far, both spaces have been gutted and the newer building has a new roof. The contractor is working on the pitched roof on the older building, replacing termite-eaten timbers inside and preparing to place new ceramic tiles on the outside.
Hoola Na Pua worked with AHL to base the layout on therapeutic design, with pastel color schemes and a layout designed for therapy, Munoz said.
AHL designed the facility’s entrance to be through an atrium on the ground floor of the newer building that will be named for The MacNaughton Group Foundation, with spaces for families, social workers and others to meet with the girls, as well as administrative office space.
Outside, there are plans for a multi-purpose sports court, and the Rotary clubs on Oahu are sponsoring a serenity garden off among stands of bamboo and Norfolk Island pines.
The residential space, with 19 bedrooms and four shared bathrooms, will be on the second floor of that building, flowing into the common areas in the older building. Those will include classrooms — in addition to regular schooling, the girls will be able to learn life skills as well as culinary skills, sewing, art and music.
A teaching kitchen will be built next to the commercial kitchen where the girls’ meals will be prepared. Outside the back door will be a garden and a greenhouse where the girls can grow their own food.
A movement studio sponsored by the Hawaii Women’s Legal Fund will be built near the classrooms. There will also be therapy rooms, a health room and a family room area where the girls can relax.
‘Very attainable’ The fact that the Pearl Haven project involves rebuilding existing buildings is helpful for raising the remaining funds, said John Dean, chairman emeritus of Central Pacific Financial Corp., parent of Central Pacific Bank. Dean was introduced to Munoz by Susan Utsugi, senior vice president and director of business banking at CPB, who had joined the Hoola Na Pua board.
“This is not an idea of pie in the sky,” he said. “I think it would be much harder to raise money, if we were in the situation of ‘this is what we’d like to do.’
“I wouldn’t be involved unless I saw a great need in the community and it’s something that’s very attainable.” Arce said he’s also confident that Munoz will make her fundraising goal.
“We’re going to help her,” he said.