The Power of Positive Living

Maria MongaloMaria Mongalo loves cleaning (she really does) almost as much as she loves “her girls” — the women of Browning and Dorsey Halls. Maria has been the building attendant for the two resident halls for the last 10 years, keeping the bathrooms spotless and living areas neat and tidy. She ventures into the individual rooms, not to clean, but to visit. The students talk to her about life and family and boyfriends, often in Spanish. Maria shares her life experiences as well. She has quite a story.

Born in Nicaragua, Maria was raised in a middle class family with five siblings on her father’s large ranch. She went to private schools, then two years at Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) to study psychology. Then came the Revolution, in 1978-79. To escape the dangers university students faced, Maria, speaking little English, followed her two older brothers to the United States and landed a job at Carl’s Jr. in Pomona.

It was hard for Maria to adjust, and she had two failed marriages to unsupportive men. With each, she had a child: Michelle, now 25, and Alfredo, 19. In the early years raising them, she had no financial help: Her first husband had disappeared, and her second was an alcoholic who lost his job and his money. Maria often held two jobs to provide a safe home. Her hectic work schedule left little time to be with her own children, something she regrets. “I was brought up believing that the most important thing is for a mother to be with her children.” She cried a lot, but persevered. “I didn’t have a choice,” she says.

A lucky break came in 1987, when she was offered a job in the Scripps’ kitchen through her sister-in-law, Sharon Mongalo. She had met her third husband, Jose, whose family she knew in Nicaragua. He was the emotionally supportive partner she had long sought. They moved to a home in Riverside and years later, Maria became pregnant with a third child. She had recently been promoted from kitchen work to building attendant, and she worked through much of her pregnancy. When blood tests showed problems, Jose said, “Whatever we have, we will have.”

A boy, Alvero, was born with Down Syndrome. At 10 months, he needed open-heart surgery. The operation was a success, and now, at 9, Maria calls him “the sweetest boy — what would my life be without him?”

Through all of her difficulties, Maria has kept a positive attitude. “I tell my girls [at Scripps], ‘When times are hard, always look for the positive. Know that something better is waiting for you.'”

Maria now makes an effort to spend extra time with her own children, and recently took a 12-day trip to New York with her daughter. “I realize the most important thing is to talk to your children,” she says. “I’m doing that more with Alvero. Maybe it’s not too late.”


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