Strengthening Youth, Families, and the Community Through Cultural Arts and Mentoring Programs

Meet Debra Máres, Executive Director-Founder at Women Wonder Writers, a “nonprofit organization with a mission to break the cycle of victimization and abuse through education, empathy & expression”.

A Latina writer, teacher and speaker, founder, and also an attorney, Debra is a lot of things. She is a TEDx speaker and has inspired millions with her talk. Through her female empowerment program, she supports young women through journaling, cultural arts, and restorative justice. While working as a prosecutor, Debra realized the need to support the families and build a positive pathway for their children. This led her to start her non-profit, Women Wonder Writers based in Riverside, California. The organization is working to incite a positive change in the community through its programs and raising awareness against social injustice. WWW also empowers youth to be educated and empathetic whilst reducing the number of school dropouts. This has also helped in lowering the crime rate in the area. 

Growing up, Debra struggled with addiction and violence trauma. She sought refuge in school, away from the domestic violence and alcoholism at home. However, her family always emphasized the importance of education and provided her with opportunities in ballet, dancing, biking, riding, and even with a chance to work in the family business. This helped her become the first college graduate in her family. She then attended law school and became a prosecutor to support women and children. As a prosecutor, Debra worked with youth in the community through gang intervention and mentoring opportunities.

Talking about her organization, Debra says, “We implement cultural arts programs in schools, communities, and corrections. Our mission is to break the cycle of victimization and abuse through education, empathy, and expression. We use expressive arts to help students (adult, youth, male, female, LBGTQ) overcome trauma”. WWW are also “the creator of The Write of your Life, week resilience-building curriculum and creator of Art of Fatherhood, a paint date social promoting healthy father-daughter relationships and Halt the Assault, a spoken word event feat. men at the mic”. WWW has also been able to start their arts programming in correctional facilities in two prisons in California. “90% of life is just showing up, and you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, says Debra. This is one idea that helped her get the funding to continue the program. She follows this idea and approach, whether it is applying for a grant or attending an event because she feels that you never know who you will meet or if a potential funder will invest in your idea.

Similar to most nonprofits, Women Wonder Writers also struggled to secure funding initially for the art supplies for the students. Presently, with COVID, they are adapting the organizational structure, policies, and procedures to meet the needs of the community and the agency. Despite these challenges, WWW has continued to thrive. Debra is proud to note that the non-profit and its founders are recipients of the Riverside District Attorney’s Office Community Hero Award and the City of Riverside Parks Recreation and Community Services Department Certificate of Appreciation and Unforgettables Foundation Certificate of Recognition. They have also been recognized by several US government agencies. 

Leaving an inspiring message for the readers while stressing on the importance of serving the community, she says, “Every time you choose to implement your gift in an authentic way to serve your community, the community remembers. You may not immediately notice the impacts of your early efforts, however people watch and follow suit, and collectively and collaboratively like a big snowball forming with the right amount of momentum, you’ll see that big things begin to happen. Whether your efforts are impacting one human for their life and future generation or whether it’s many, the community benefits. The community remembers”.