“I am just an ordinary woman,” Mara tried to convince me throughout the interview. “Big Ocean is for every day, ordinary women like me,” she said. “I love that you don’t need any fancy titles, degrees, or accomplishments to be a part of the Big Ocean sisterhood. You just need a belief in the tenets and a desire to serve.” As I got to know Mara through this interview, I found that her commitment and love for serving and her desire to care for and encourage others is far from ordinary.
A self-proclaimed “every day woman,” Mara has a passion for life that is contagious. If you were to hang out with Mara for the afternoon you would probably find her homeschooling her kids, playing the piano, going on a bike ride, or sneaking off to a quiet spot (while her kids are distracted) to finish a few more pages in the book she is reading. Most likely you would be charmed by her compassion for others, love of life, and her ability to make everyone feel part of the family. She works hard to keep in touch with her ever-expanding group of good friends. Her other interests include nature, learning, movies, and travel. She secretly dreams of being a living history docent, learning French, participating in a sprint triathelon, and climbing a mountain.
Originally from northeastern United States, Mara has a bit of wanderlust that has led her to call many places home. Her civically-minded parents had a deep sense of community and instilled in Mara an understanding that each person can contribute to make the whole great. Even though both parents worked, their family made it a priority to serve in soup kitchens, reach out to at-risk youth, and lobby for change within the community. These fond and vivid memories shaped Mara’s character and who she would be as an adult. Mara shared that watching her parents serve other people was the model that eventually led her to become involved with Big Ocean Women.
Young adulthood took Mara to Virginia for college where she met her future husband and gained an education. Her husband’s childhood held many of the same important lessons about civic responsibility, taking care of others, and being aware of what is happening internationally. These two married six years after meeting and created a life together that many would call far from ordinary.
It was during college that Mara’s parents divorced, and Mara explained her feelings surrounding that event. She said, “I have struggled at times with feeling broken – especially around the idea of family.” This feeling led her to adventures later in life that allowed her to heal some of that brokenness.
Mara’s passion for education led her to a career as a teacher before becoming a full-time mom. She and her husband both love learning together and with their girls. One of their most interesting family learning experiences was a year of international travel, an adventure that would traverse twenty-four countries. Much of their time was spent tracing ancestral roots. The motivation, for Mara, was very personal. Mara’s paternal grandmother was French and died when Mara was a little girl. Mara shared, “I never really felt like I knew her or fully understood her culture, and yet I had so many questions.” The experiences of their year instilled a deep love and passion in Mara for family stories and how they shape us. Mara stated, “The time we spent with our kids in France was life changing. Suddenly, I had names, places, and stories – puzzle pieces that explained who I was; puzzle pieces that filled in the brokenness. I don’t feel broken anymore.”
Mara has always been drawn to helping others, yet found that she and many other “ordinary” women like herself lack the information they need to get involved in their communities and make an impact there. As a young mom she found a really neat group of women to socialize with. Mara recalls, “I often marveled at how special it was to be around a group of women who made me feel like my best self. I felt really lucky to have their friendship and support.” Despite these fulfilling relationships with her group of friends, Mara still felt a need to do and help more. Inspired by her experiences as a child serving with her family, Mara approached the group about serving in the community together. They were all excited at the idea. Mara found that in their community in California there was a need for mentors for young teen moms. These young mothers needed help with skills like budgeting, cooking, and grocery shopping. Mara stated, “I thought to myself – we could do that!” Unfortunately, Mara and her family moved away before she could get anything started, but Mara realized that her group of friends in California were like many women in the world today whose desires “if channeled properly could lead to great things.”
In a recent move to Utah, these ideas and the passion to help others led the couple to find a home in an area where they felt there were more opportunities to get involved and make a difference. It was within this larger community that Mara met Carolina Allen for the first time and was introduced to the ideas and tenets associated with Big Ocean Women. Mara explains, “When I found Big Ocean it was exactly what I was searching for- an organization that would facilitate my desire to do service with great friends.” Mara felt drawn to help and was thrilled to become involved. One of the appeals of Big Ocean for Mara is the idea that as a worldwide sisterhood we can support each other in our brokenness.
As head of special projects for Big Ocean, Mara has been helping develop a Big Ocean Baby Shower. These showers hope to broaden the focus of baby showers to include supporting women in issues they face around birth. “At a recent Big Ocean Baby Shower, women assembled clean birthing kits for women in Kibera, Kenya. In doing special projects like the baby shower,” Mara states, “we are sending a message to our sisters worldwide that we care about their lives and their struggles.” Mara believes, as well, that the women in their local Big Ocean cottage can enjoy the kind of support and fulfilling relationships that she found with her group of friends in California.
Mara has a vision for the future of Big Ocean Women. She states, “I have this vision in my mind of a powerful army of women – women of all faiths, nationalities, and backgrounds – united in doing good. I see us meeting in our cottages and making a difference in our communities. I see us banding together nationally and internationally as a voice for peace and goodness.”
This “ordinary” woman has stepped into an important role with Big Ocean Women that allows her to see how much influence one group can have in the world by standing up for important issues. Her hope is that Big Ocean Women cottages can be sustainable and strong. While speaking of this strength Mara stated, “Big Ocean Women is ordinary women making change in the world.” If Mara is an example of those women, then yes, that is true!
The warmth and compassion that accompanied Mara’s words throughout our phone conversation made me feel that we had known each other since childhood. So it was no surprise to me that Mara’s personal focus and attention is on tenet number six that speaks of serving in homes, communities and the world. Her desire to serve spoke loudly throughout the interview and her gift of her time and talents to the organization supports and echoes those words.
This “ordinary” woman shows us how we can all makes changes within our communities, especially in areas that we are passionate about, and see change occur.