Branch: Marine Corps
Duty Station: Camp Schwab
Number of Deployments: 7
Number of PCS's: 5
Share your military spouse story:
Growing up the daughter of a U.S. Navy Corpsman, I saw firsthand what it was like to be a military spouse by watching my mother. I also grew to learn the level of sacrifice my parents made to provide stability and family values for me and my sisters. Given my life as a military child and having parents who worked in public service, it came naturally for me to do so as well. At the age of 15 I began working at our local Commissary and through this connection, several years later, I was introduced to my U.S. Marine Corps spouse of now 15 years. Both my journey as a military spouse and work in public service continued over the years, where I later found myself becoming a leader in the military community and felt inspired to truly make an impact in the military community. Through volunteerism I was able to truly make connections in the military community, help lead teams of military spouses, and support many service members and families.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
While I've been working and volunteering within the military community for the last 20 years, the turning point in my development as a leader in the military community began when I took part in the Leadership Education Seminar of Camp Pendleton, back in 2009. The leadership skills I acquired from the military spouse-driven leadership seminar led me to holding leadership roles such as board president, director of programs, volunteer and marketing manager, parliamentarian, center manager, executive director, chief executive officer, writer, and more. Through these roles I was inspired to pursue a bachelor's degree in human services and a master's degree in public administration for nonprofits. The knowledge I acquired through obtaining my degrees have helped me lead mission driven teams, and accomplish organizational goals.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
As mentioned previously, I've held a number of leadership roles within the military community. Some of the organizations I've worked and volunteered with include the YMCA of San Diego County, Armed Services YMCA Camp Pendleton, Camp Pendleton Commissary, USO San Diego, Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary School, Leadership Education Seminar Camp Pendleton, and Frontwave Credit Union Toastmasters Club. Currently, I work as the Center Manager for USO Camp Schwab, in Okinawa Japan. In 2021, our center supported over 75,000 service members and their families here in Okinawa by offering unique programs and services to meet their needs. During my time off, I commit to serving Network for Exceptional Military Families as the founder and volunteer-executive director, as well as the parliamentarian for Okinawa Leadership Seminar. Additionally, I'm an active member of Stroller Warriors Okinawa. Volunteerism is a true passion of mine and I take every chance I get to give back to my community.
Describe how you support your community:
My support within the military community is seen heavily in the work I do and through my volunteerism in the military community. As the founder and executive director for Network for Exceptional Military Families, my primary duties have been to support the establishment of a team, help assess needs within the exceptional family member community, and support our team in the development of programs and fundraising. Since our establishment in 2020, our organization has been classified as a 501c3 within the state of California and has supported nearly 200 military families. In my role as the parliamentarian for Okinawa Leadership Seminar, I'm able to give back to this sister organization of the Leadership Education Seminar of Camp Pendleton, the organization that helped pave the way for me back in 2009, by supporting the development of their parliamentary procedures, networking with other military spouse leaders, and referring leaders for the seminar.
What do you advocate for? Why?
Plain and simple, I advocate for military families. For families like the one I grew up in, the one I'm apart of, those who are new to the lifestyle, those with exceptional family members, and for all military families. Over the years I've seen the sacrifices our military families make, the hardships they face, and the joys they share made possible by organizations like the ones I serve. I want to continue efforts in developing solutions and making life easier for our military families. I feel very strongly about making life easier for our military families now more than ever as in recent years we've faced more hardships. Recent hardships faced by military families include not being able to return home to see our families, being separated from our service members for extended periods of time, having even less opportunities for closure in transition, and having limited access to services; all as a result of the recent pandemic. Our military families need us now more than ever.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
One of the best ways I help spread the messages of the organizations I serve is through networking. Another way is through volunteerism. I've come to realize that in order to be effective in getting your message across you must step out of your comfort zone. By raising my hand to volunteer when a need arrises, I step out of my comfort zone, learn new skills, and form new connections. I see each connection I make within the military community as an opportunity to learn, grow, and inspire. I also use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and webpages to get my message across.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
I'm a firm believer in recognizing a need for change and standing up to make the change. For me it's not so much about the title as it is about raising awareness for the organizations I serve. I will say that I've been privileged to meet some incredible AFI Military Spouses of the Year over the years who have truly inspired me through the changes they've made in the military community since claiming their titles. My hope is to share with everyone just how hard my teams work to support our military families, ensure that families are aware of the services we provide, and to inspire future leaders to take action. I believe that by holding the title of AFI Military Spouse of the Year, I'll also step out of my comfort zone once again, help raise awareness for the organizations I serve, and help improve opportunities for growth & outreach in the military community.
Maria is the epitome of what a Military spouse should be when it comes to supporting not only her husband but her Military community as a whole. Her whole life is dedicated to helping Military Families, Spouses, and service members alike. Her work with the ASYMCA on Camp Pendleton, USO San Diego, and now here at USO Schwab has supported thousands of Service members and their families. On top of all that while earning her own Masters Degree she started her own Non-Profit Organization called “The Network for Exceptional Family Members” that strives to help those families with needs beyond what conventional means can support. Maria is passionate and dedicated to supporting Military Families and Service Members. Please help this woman get the recognition she so greatly deserves.
- by Gordon Paige