ALUMNAE-LED NONPROFIT SUPPORTS AND GUIDES GIRLS
Navigating through the pain of losing a mother toward a pathway to acceptance and healing is the goal of nascent nonprofit Chula’s Mission.
Co-founded by Mayra San Juan ’07 (BBA) and her friend Lyndsey Ruiz, the organization aims to help girls who’ve lost their mothers by offering a haven that includes dynamic grief counseling and incorporates cooking classes and
“We’ve set parameters that we work with girls from the ages of 11 to 13, but we won’t turn anyone away,” explains San Juan (pictured). The advice to hone in on a particular age group came from someone who sadly has insight into such major life losses: Brent King, father of murdered San Diego teen Chelsea. “He advised us to really narrow it down and focus on a particular age group. However, if asked, we’ll work with girls as young as five.”
San Juan’s mother passed away suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2010, which led to her daughter’s decision to relocate from San Diego to Texas in order to be closer to family. She started working at a preschool, which was where she met Ruiz, who had lost her mother to cancer years before. “We clicked right away,” recalls San Juan. “I told her about my mom on my first day on the job.”
Before long, Ruiz shared her idea with San Juan: to form a nonprofit that would nurture young girls going through such a loss. “For some, it’s recent. Some have been abandoned, or have moms that are incarcerated, or absent for a long time due to military deployment.”
“We just want to help them with all the things girls look to their mother for,” says San Juan. “Things like getting through puberty, learning to cook, balancing a checkbook.”
When San Juan decided to return to San Diego, Ruiz soon followed, determined to see the idea of the nonprofit move from dream to reality. During the time it took to jump through all the hoops that go into setting up a 501(c)3 organization, the pair began to recruit others to their cause.
Board Treasurer Jessica McCarthy ’07 (BA) met San Juan when the two were on a study abroad trip to Madrid while juniors at USD. She says she’s glad to be a part of the Chula’s Mission leadership team. “The board is great. We have a good variety, all with different strengths.”
Executive Director Andrea Bosowski ’07 (BA) (pictured at right, above) is another longtime friend of San Juan. A therapist in private practice in San Diego, her specialty is working with children and adolescents who’ve experienced trauma. “This project is meaningful to me for a plethora of reasons, the biggest being the immense need for the specific services we’re offering,” she says. “After the loss of a friend I became acutely aware of how unpredictable the journey through grief can be, and how imperative it is to have a support system to lean on. Chula’s Mission is an invaluable place that provides the support of caring adults, and peers that can relate to one another on a level that not everyone can always understand.”
A fundraising launch event in August 2014 was a resounding success. While Chula’s Mission doesn’t yet have its own permanent home, the nonprofit rents space from Solana Beach’s Center for Healthy Living through the Boys and Girls Clubs. The plan is to provide grieving girls with mentor/volunteers who will spend one-on-one time with them.
Those mentors have been carefully selected. “We have a pre-application process,” explains San Juan. “Then we meet with them, give them an orientation, do a background check, educate them about maintaining appropriate boundaries and train them. The idea is that they bond with the girls and help them to feel safe, emotionally.”
The notion that grief and loss can be transformed into rebirth and growth is a powerful one. At least in part, San Juan credits the University of San Diego with helping her become the person she is today.
“USD laid the foundation,” she says. “It wasn’t one specific professor. It was all of them. Because of them, I was able to start Chula’s Mission. Because of them, we will be able to help young motherless girls, not only to heal, but to thrive.” Bosowski agrees. “USD helped solidify my value system, which has always put great emphasis on helping others. I want to promote positive change in whatever way I can.” — Julene Snyder