April 2021

From Chilaquiles to Community Development

Maria Cadenas Focuses on Love

by suki wessling

Welcome back to our monthly feature of moms who have faced the task of pandemic parenting while also continuing their work in our community. Research has shown that women have suffered greater economic and personal fallout from the pandemic, losing jobs or having to work while also caring for children.

Maria Cadenas’s 12-year-old daughter is “not a morning person,” so that’s Maria’s prime time for work. And work she does: On top of her primary job as Executive Director of Santa Cruz Community Ventures, Maria has run for office for Santa Cruz City Council and State Senate. And that’s not all.

“Maria raised and distributed millions of dollars for undocumented families who were left out of federal relief programs,” says County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty.

“This was essential in helping a vulnerable population survive.”
During her campaigns, Maria ended up having to enlist her daughter’s help.
“She became a trooper in helping put up yard signs and so patient as I took on phone calls and meetings in the evening”—the time that Maria usually sets aside for family time.

“I hope it helped her see another side of civic engagement,” Maria says. “I remember there was a phone call—we were having meetings every evening. It was a tough call, and after it ended, my daughter looked at me and was like, ‘that was interesting.’ She was engaged even if she wasn’t directly part of the conversation.”

Maria shares custody with her daughter’s other mom, and finds that she shares the frustrations common to most parents these days.

“COVID has changed many things, but the most crucial one has been an adjustment of how to view ‘screen time,’ especially using it to keep my daughter connected to friends and using it for video playdates and staying in touch with family,” Maria says.

She had to adjust her expectations further once school went online as well.
“They are building their social identities and connecting with their peers,” Maria points out. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to deprive you of the connections you’re making via technology to stay connected to school friends,’ but it was a real shift for me to learn to let it go.”

In her day job, Maria is focused on making our community a better place for everyone. Community Ventures is part think tank, part community development. Maria and her agency were instrumental in creating the new Santa Cruz Seeds program that will give every child born in the county a college savings account. (See article)

Maria works to reimagine how people can alter the local economy to work better for everyone.

“We put money on such a pedestal—it controls what we do,” Maria says. “But people created our economy, we created money, and we have the power to change it.”
During the pandemic, Maria has made a strong focus on spending time in the kitchen with her daughter. “Her favorite dish is chilaquiles. It’s a pretty simple dish, but there’s a lot of prep, from making chips to shredding the cheese. She is my sous chef!”

On Sundays, Maria says, the roles are reversed. “She wrote down the pancake recipe when she was five in this little family cookbook we have in the kitchen. On Sundays she gets out the recipe that she wrote when she was little and then I’m her sous chef!”

“I feel blessed to work for an agency that nourishes my soul and helps so much in building the vision of a more equitable and welcoming tomorrow,” Maria explains.
Her philosophy of life?

“Everything begins from love of each other and our planet.”

If you know of a mom who has made a difference, please email us at [email protected]

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