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A VOICE FOR ALL CHILDREN

Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson uses her platform to address child welfare and the important work of Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas.

By Jillian McGehee | Photography by Meredith Melody
Hair by Joi Gwin-Cummins with Just Blow, A Blowout Bar  | Makeup by Bridget Baltimore with Barbara/Jean
Clothing & Earrings provided by Barbara/Jean | Necklace from Sissy’s Log Cabin to be auctioned at event

Often quiet and always poised, Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson becomes animated when the subject of child welfare comes into the conversation. A former teacher, mother of four and grandmother of five, she makes it her mission as first lady to address child advocacy efforts and champion the necessity for continued support. A common belief is that time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t always turn out that way, especially when child abuse is a factor, Susan says. “I want to see all children thrive. Anytime we come together to protect children, I can’t think of anything more worthy.”

For her commitment to all children, the first lady is being honored as the first Arkansas Woman of Inspiration at the inaugural luncheon for Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, of which Susan is a board member. Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas is a member of the National Children’s Advocacy Center. Providing free services, each center offers a safe environment where law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, victim advocacy and health professionals develop coordinated strategies to address each child’s specific needs. Woman of Inspiration co-chair Shayla Copas says, “We are thrilled to honor the first lady for all of her hard work with Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas throughout the years. Not only has she been a true ambassador for the cause, she has shown love and compassion for our state’s children on many levels, truly, making her the ‘2015 Arkansas Woman of Inspiration.’ The first lady’s passion for the state of Arkansas is unwavering.” In addition to honoring Susan, the 2015 Woman of Inspiration event will recognize an adult who has overcome the trauma of child abuse.

Proceeds from the luncheon will be used to establish more centers and support the existing centers across the state. Susan recognizes her responsibility and the critical care that each center provides. “I’m very grateful that I can point everyone’s focus on Children’s Advocacy Centers, but it also bears down on me to work harder to get more centers around the state,” she says. “We only have 14 centers throughout the state, and they’re not evenly dispersed, causing long drives for children and families who need our services during the aftermath of physical or sexual abuse. I’m fortunate to have this platform to sound off about Children’s Advocacy Centers. I want to bring attention to the centers to raise awareness and funds. The effect abuse can have on children can lead to adult dysfunction, which can be devastating to society. Children are the seeds of the next generation and determine what kind of society we’ll have. The centers change lives forever and help children heal their body, mind and soul.”

A native of Atlanta, Susan grew up in a blue-collar family – the second of seven children – with aspirations of one day becoming a doctor. “Mom had a tough upbringing and created a stable environment for us while teaching us to be kind to children – she understood the long-term effects of a bad childhood,” she says. After graduating from Bob Jones University in South Carolina, Susan pursued a career in education. She taught biology and algebra in Memphis, and continued a relationship with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whom she met in college.

As a teacher, Susan says she realized the power of investing in children. She would pay special attention to students who were distracted, possibly because of a disruptive home life, and encourage them to visit the counselor. “It hits hard to see kids struggling and it can be hard to put positivity in their lives, but now I have this wonderful opportunity to make a difference through Children’s Advocacy Centers and to motivate others to help the centers,” she says. Through mutual friends, Susan was introduced to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County. “It’s the safe place for children to disclose what happened to them,” she says. When the trained counselors are able to talk to abused children and then turn in court-worthy interviews, it makes all the difference in the child’s world, she notes. “They are listened to and validated, and that trust is so critical. When we can intervene early on and the abuse stops, the child has a much better chance at a successful life, and hopefully, the cycle of abuse stops.”

Susan encourages anyone who suspects child abuse to call 1-844-SAVE A CHILD. The hotline is dispatched to Arkansas State Troopers. “Together, we can all add volume to the voices of children,” she says. 

GETTING TO KNOW SUSAN:

Typical day: it’s different every day
From speaking engagements to greeting people at the mansion, I enjoy it all.

Favorite pastime: playing piano
I’m rehearsing for a performance with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at the mansion and enjoy playing for my own pleasure.

Dream job: being a missionary
I combine the practical and spiritual soul.

Inspired by: Joan of Arc
Through her, I discovered women can do things, too.

Words to live by: overcome evil with good