A Single Mom With Lots of SPUNK

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A friend of Susan Speir's once gave her a card that read: "If I'm not accepting what I can't change, I'm probably out changing what I can't accept."

Speir went out to create change in 1982. She was personnel director for a Compton furniture company and a single mother trying to collect child support from her ex-husband for their two daughters, then 10 and 11. Despite a court order and help from her local child-support office, her efforts had proved fruitless.

After attending conferences and reading government reports on the issue to see if there was something more she could do, Speir realized that there were many other mothers in her position. And thus was born SPUNK (Single Parents United 'N' Kids), an organization to help parents collect child support.

"I started SPUNK because I thought, 'If I can't get mine, at least I'll help other people get theirs,' " recalls Speir, 45. "I'm originally from Minnesota, and we were taught to take care of ourselves and other people too, not to sit there and feel sorry for yourself if there was adversity."

Having first set up shop in her Long Beach home, since 1991 she has operated from a small office at the Houghton Park Community Center in North Long Beach. The program now fields about 1,200 calls a month.

It has expanded its initial information and referral services to include obtaining court orders, doing the paperwork to establish paternity if the parents never married, handling simple divorce cases, holding twice-monthly divorce clinics, and publishing pamphlets on those and other subjects.

Speir completes about 130 legal actions a month for low-income clients in the cities assigned to the Long Beach, Compton and Torrance court districts.

"What we try to stress to the women is not to deal with this emotionally," Speir says. "This is a business issue, not an emotional one. They have to focus on what's in the best interest of the children--many times they're so focused on the father and his reaction that they don't even think of the children."

About 10% of the requests that SPUNK receives come from men who need help dealing with delinquent mothers. "We're about getting the children their money. We don't care if it's the mom or dad who calls," Speir says.

There was a happy ending for Speir herself. Even though she had given up hope of obtaining the money owed her daughters, in 1983 she was in court helping a SPUNK client when she talked to the Los Angeles deputy district attorney about her own case. Through his efforts, her ex-husband was arrested in Texas and extradited to California. Shortly thereafter, Speir received a check for $13,761, thought to be the largest back support payment collected to that time.

"To this day, I believe I wouldn't have gotten a dime if I hadn't started SPUNK," she says. "And that's not why I did it.

"We help people on a daily basis," Speir says. "We encourage both parties to not be afraid of the court system. You can't focus on the negative--you have to think of the positive, how many people's lives you've changed. It makes me feel so good."

For more information about SPUNK, call (310) 984-2580.

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