Maria was born and raised in Cali, Colombia, South America. She is the youngest of six girls. As a youth, Maria had the opportunity to participate in many sports, including competitive tennis, swimming, and participated in the Colombian National Synchronize Swim Team. She is very proud of her Hispanic Heritage and feels very fortunate to be able to share it with many Y staff. Hispanics are warm welcoming people and they love to celebrate with dancing and food. Building relationships is in the DNA.
She has lived in different areas of the country since the 80’s: New Jersey, Las Vegas, North Carolina and Florida. These experiences have giving her a great appreciation for many cultures. While in Florida and NC, she developed and implemented community-based programs that provide services to Hispanic populations. Her first experience with the Y was many years ago while she attended high school in New Jersey. When she was part of the high school swim team, the school team practice every week at a local Y in Randolph, NJ. She was new in this country and participating in the swim team helped her feel like she belonged. This is the place where she made her first American friends.
She started her professional Y career over 20 years ago in North Carolina as the Program Director of the Hispanic Achievers. She had multiple roles including the Executive Director of Childcare. After 9 years, she took a position with the YMCA of the USA national office as a Technical Advisor for a National Program: “Welcoming Hispanic Families.” Three years later, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida to join the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast to lead the Youth Development department. Currently, she is the VP of Operations and Youth Development. Maria has been able to stay true to her passion since she was a little girl, which impacts the lives of youth and families. She feels very fortunate to work for an organization that is nimble enough to become what the community needs. In 2019, Maria opened the New American Welcome Center, located off Old Kings Road South in Jacksonville. This project has been a dream for many years, and with the help of leadership, partners and staff, this dream became a reality. The center was the first of its kind within the Ys in the state of Florida. It continues to provide needed services to the new immigrant community.
She has been volunteering for many years as a member of the Steering Committee for the YMCA National Hispanic LatinoLeadership Network, one of the Employee Resource Groups. She co-leads the Professional Development Program, and she is passionate about helping Hispanic staff advance in the national YMCA movement. “I want them to see the Y as a long life career opportunity.”
Maria has had the opportunity to travel internationally to South Africa to support the work the YMCA does in many of this country’s cities. She also makes sure to visit the Y in Colombia when she travels back to visit her family. She was part of the task force who helped in the post Hurricane Maria efforts at the Puerto Rico YMCAs. In addition, she has mentored staff in San Juan and delivered bilingual trainings to its staff. The worldwide reach of the Y is one of the many aspects she loves about this organization.