Maire V. Zavala, the seventh in our series of 25 Wonder Women is a Puerto Rican born in Brooklyn, NY, raised and educated in Massachusetts. She is the eldest of 9 children, the mother of a son, Hakien, the pride and joy of her life. Before arriving in Manatee County 15 years ago, Maria was an activist and an agent for social change and she has contributed through her many publications and her participation in many national organizations for women, children, and people of color; including serving on the Massachusetts Coalition of Battered Women’s Service Groups as president for a year. Maria co-founded the Massachusetts Women of Color Caucus, she represented her state for four years on the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She was also the closing Key Note Speaker at their third National Conference. Maria participated in the development of the protocol for mental health service providers treating battered women which were distributed nationwide by the National Association of Social Work and was used by Domestic Violence Programs and Mental Health Providers as guidelines for intervention. She co-founded H.E.R., Inc. Housing and Economic Resources for Women Inc. As part of a team of incredible women, she participated in creating transitional housing and on-site programming for pregnant and parenting teens on one site and single women on another.

When her son was accepted at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Maria decided to go back to school herself and is a proud Alumna of Mount Holyoke College where she received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology and her Masters in Psychology and Education and graduated cum laude. While at Mount Holyoke, Maria was honored with the prestigious Francis Harriet Williams Award for academic excellence, social justice, and service to others. She designed, researched, and conducted a 2-year exploratory study, “A Bridge Over Divided Worlds: An exploration into the nature of bilingual Puerto Rican youths’ ethnic identity development identity”. The findings of this study have been presented at three national conferences.

For the last 12 years, Maria has been an Advisor for Whole Child Manatee. WCM connects families to resources and providers to one another in Manatee County. She is known in the community for her work with families who most need services in our community but has the hardest time accessing them, in particular, those uneducated, in poverty, and Migrant and Immigrant families. She was an active member of the Latino Community Network where she chaired the Education Committee for over 2 years. Maria is a contributing writer for the Bradenton Herald Sunday Column “I am Woman Hear me Write”. A Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, Public Speaker, Workshop Presenter and is most known for her diversity training.

For the last 10 years, Maria has dedicated most of her available free time to Latinas at the Women’s Resource Center. She is the founder of Latinas of the WRC.  This group continues to grow and last year served over 313 women. The Latina’s mission is to remove barriers to progress to the Latinos in Manatee County through the celebration of culture, education, and unification. She has also written a curriculum for Roots and Wings; a communication series for Latinas and their Daughters sponsored by the WRC and the Girl Scouts of Gulf Coast Florida. She is a Troop Leader and mentor for the on-site Girl Scout Troop 494; Mission Sisterhood for and by Latina Adolescents.

Maria can most identify with Emile Zola’s words; “If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud”.