When Mariel Cota, a victim of domestic violence, escaped her home with the clothes on her back she had no idea her life would turn around to the point where she owned her own flower business based in Coronado.
It was in 2012, after years of lies and abuse, that Cota ran away from home and found a shelter to temporarily stay at where her husband would not look for her. She said she could not go to a family or friend’s house for fear her husband would find her. She was admitted to the YWCA and there she was referred to San Diego Family Justice Center, what she describes as a one stop shop for victims of domestic violence.
The police department leads the center; it’s their domestic violence unit, explained Cota. They partner with other organizations to help victims with restraining orders, therapy and counseling, and Dress for Success. Through Dress for Success Cota was able to get some clothes and get an interview in Coronado as a personal assistant.
“When I was in the shelter my then husband tracked me down and attacked me outside of the shelter. By then I was working with this lady in Coronado,” explained Cota who told her employer what happened. Her employer offered for her to stay in her guest house.
While in the shelter she took flower design classes as a form of therapy. “I was looking for a way to get income…do something with my life,” said Cota. By 2014 Cota’s San Diego Flower Solutions was making flower arrangements for events. “By 2014-2015 I was buying flowers for a quantity that would not go bad…I realized I needed a cooler. I was a afraid to get more jobs - more than 50 arrangements - because I couldn’t store them,” she said.
Thanks to Alliance for Hope, Proyecto de Esperanza (Project Hope) she was able to receive a micro loan and buy a cooler. Alliance for Hope supports Latina survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The project is sponsored by the Avon for Women Foundation, the Verizon Foundation, Hera-LABS and the Hispanic Chamber of E-commerce. Cota now does arrangements for weddings, corporate events and for fundraisers at the YWCA in places like Grand Del Mar. “Now with the refrigerator I can do big events, present quality, fresh flower arrangements to my customers,” she said.
“It’s amazing how law enforcement, Alliance for Hope and YWCA help you gain your inner strength to restart your life, and this lady [in Coronado] who opened the doors for me when I started working for her, her kindness. She opened the doors to her house. This lady has been living her whole life in Coronado, she’s a wonderful woman. There are still angels on earth and I found mine in Coronado,” said Cota who would not reveal the name of her benefactor.
Proyecto de Esperanza, a new Alliance for Hope one year program, provides micro loans for up to $3,000 with no interest to three women and Cota was chosen as the first recipient. Lisbet Perez, manager of Proyecto de Esperanza explained the loans are for women who want to start, restart or grow their business. “We’re funded for a year through the Avon Foundation. We hope to get more grants to continue this project. It’s an after crisis program that helps [women] build confidence, believe in themselves and not go back to the abuser or have another bad relationship, but stop the cycle,” she said.
“Now I’m 45, back in college [taking flower design courses]. I was 39 when this happened and said to myself ‘What am I going to do?’ I thought it was over. Now this program has helped rebuild my life,” said Cota.
Perez explained that the recipients of the three micro loans also receive a membership to the Hispanic Chamber of E-Commerce. The chamber will help the three women with their websites and social media. Cota said her website should be up and running in August. Hera-LABS, a partner of Proyecto de Esperanza will help Cota with a 10-week program to create a business plan. “It’s not just micro loans but tools with these amazing people who are experts, so there will give more possibilities the business will be successful,” said Perez. Programs like the flowers arrangement class that Cota first took and Art Heals, (where participants create art under the guidance of San Diego artists) help victims find a creative expression and give them options with healing projects and skills that can be used for profit.
Cota, who grew up in Mexico and had an event planning business in Tijuana, is excited to be back in business.
Cota is proud of her three children ages 14,16 and 20 who are doing well in school and getting good grades. “I’m grateful for what we have. We are happy to be together,” she said.