Friday, August 31, 2012

Maria Ruiz: Community Catalyst

Maria Ruiz is a mother and a lawyer, an immigrant and a community health worker, a published author, and also, a survivor of domestic violence. We are proud to say she is a recent graduate of Catalyst Miami’s Parent LeadershipTraining Institute.

Maria and her three children endured abuse throughout her 21-year marriage. When she came to Miami from Venezuela in October 2009 it was with only two of her daughters. Her oldest child had committed suicide, as Maria puts it, “to break free from domestic violence.” At that time, Maria was coming to understand that her husband’s violence was not merely an element of marital strife; it was deeply affecting her children.  This realization put her on a path to becoming an advocate and a healer in her community.

After a short time in Miami, Maria’s husband came to see her and their children. His violent behavior eventually led to a visit from the police. One of the officers encouraged Maria to get a restraining order and wrote down directions to the courthouse. The very next day Maria was on a bus headed downtown to begin the process of separating legally from her husband and becoming a resident of the United States.

In getting a divorce, Maria gave up quite a bit of money and property, but gained tranquility and liberation for her daughters. As a barista at Maxine's Restaurant and Lounge in Miami Beach, she started saving up to start her own organization, FundaciĆ³n AngelMariposa, to help families affected by domestic violence heal themselves and break the cycle of violence.

As a participant in the latest class of the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI), Maria learned how to match her dreams with resources that could help her launch a community project, which she calls Mujer Mariposa. Through this program, women participate in support groups, attend workshops on healthy eating and take Zumba and Raiki classes. Maria believes that for children to be healthy, their mothers must also be healthy, which is why she is passionate about helping women seek therapy and support.

When Maria reflects on the journey she has taken, she doesn’t sound bitter towards her ex-husband. She comments that he still has their big house in Venezuela, but he is alone in it; he doesn’t have his family. She speaks proudly of how her daughters have learned to demand respect. Having seen such transformation in her own family, Maria is not content to rest; instead she is using the lessons she learned to help others heal.