Authors Articles byJoycelyn Cabrera

Joycelyn Cabrera

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The Class of 2020 gathered for a photo earlier in the school year before COVID-19 forced them apart. Submitted photo

“I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation.” – Alex-Ann Velasco

Taliya Johnson is a Maricopa High School senior who, like everyone else in her class, was looking forward to the final weeks of her senior year.

“I think the hardest part was hearing that we’re not going to have an actual graduation,” Johnson said. “We’re all kind of losing motivation, because that was our motivation. It was kind of heartbreaking.”

High school seniors reflect on everything they will be missing now that schools have been closed state-wide for the rest of the year due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The closures, announced by Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, came after an uncertain timeline of spring break extensions and forced schools to move curriculums to online platforms.

While some students are adept in the changing environment, cruising through online classes, others are beginning to struggle in time-management and focusing on schoolwork.

Many left materials for projects and assignments in the school building, unsure of when they can return to campus to retrieve their belongings. Some wonder how they’ll return textbooks before the end of the year. Overall, seniors lament on all the things they will be missing as a result of closures as part of COVID-19 precautions.

Student Voices

Freya Abraham

Freya Abraham: “It’s hard to believe in the intensity of my losses like prom, graduation, yearbook signings, etc. But it’s also hard to see the death counts rising and the struggles of health care workers. I think that the closure is unfortunate, but necessary. I hear the empathy our teachers and organizers have with students, and that makes it easier.”
Freya is the valedictorian for the class of 2020 whose career goal is to be a physician.

Haley Lemon: “I had a dream of speaking at a graduation ceremony; I wanted the opportunity to say what I believed to a massive group, to try to say something that would inspire people to care for others … Now that is all completely swept away.”
Haley is the salutatorian for the class of 2020.

Angello “Gianni” Hernandez de la Pena: “It came up very sudden, but I told my friends when spring break started, ‘We’re probably not coming back.’ And that’s what happened. Without graduation and without prom, it’s kind of sad. Our course work has reduced a lot. I’ve lost a lot of motivation. It’s hard to stay motivated with courses online.”
Gianni was accepted to and will be attending Harvard College.

Zanaa Ramirez: “I’m a little frustrated. We were doing really well so far, and my teammates worked really hard.”
Zanaa is a leader on the MHS track and field team, which had its season canceled.

Alex-Ann Velasco: “Knowing I won’t get (graduation), working super hard for the stoles and medallions and cords from the different programs I was in – like NHS, theatre, all these programs that were going to give me things to wear at graduation specifically, I’m not going to be able to wear those anymore.”
Alex-Ann qualified for nationals in the theatre/performing arts competition, which was cancelled due to travel ban.  

Taylor Russo

Taylor Russo: “I feel for my friends who are part of the baseball team, they didn’t get to finish their season. I would definitely be really upset if I wasn’t able to finish mine. I got to have my senior night, I got to have my last game and everything because this happened right when the season finished.”
Taylor was the MHS soccer captain during his sophomore, junior and senior year.

Taliya Johnson: “Missing the last dance recital made me the most upset. The last dance recital is the last time dancing with your team, your family. You get a rose at the last recital, on senior night. It’s a big thing for everyone in the company. Going to dance was the thing I looked forward to every day.”
Taliya is a member of the MHS Dance Company’s Performance Group, whose final dance was canceled.

Lexi Hicks

Lexi Hicks: “The thing I was looking forward to the most was definitely graduation, prom, senior ditch day and senior week. I don’t live with my parents so I was extremely excited to have them come down and watch their oldest daughter graduate. I was excited to decorate my cap with my friends and even take prom pictures with them.”
Lexi’s family is from Chicago, Illinois. She had already purchased a prom dress, tickets and graduation memorabilia.

Destiny Campbell: “I am a member of Student Council. This being my last year, I won’t get to fully enjoy all of the end-of-the-year celebrations that Student Council holds for seniors. I was looking forward to senior week, prom and graduation.”
Destiny will be the first member of her family to graduate high school.

Taliya Johnson

A Message from Teachers

Even with the uncertainty, loss and changes, many students have referenced the support and structure teachers are giving, as much as they can, from their newly virtualized courses.

“Your milestones may have been postponed, but you haven’t been. Continue to learn, and grow, and reach, and strive, and change, and be.”

Teachers in the English department at MHS wrote a letter to their Class of 2020 students, posting the letter on social media.

“This is a generational turning point,” the letter read.

The letter to students was signed by senior English teachers Aidan Balt, David Blanchard, Juan Garavito, Laura Lomayesva and Talitha Martin, who have all converted to teaching online along with the rest of the school for the remainder of the school year.

“It has been a major shift and is very difficult to keep track of everything changing for many classes,” Lemon said. “Many teachers have been reaching out to their students in addition to all this and they have all been super kind in trying to help us make the best out of this situation.”

MHS Student Council members, earlier in the year. Submitted photo

Final frustrations

Many students have reached the conclusion school closure is necessary for public safety but back-up plans should be applied for the senior class.

Destiny Campbell

“I understand why they did what they did; everyone’s safety should be a priority,” Campbell said. “but I feel that everything else should not have had to have been canceled.”

While many students understand the need for school closures and social distancing, it doesn’t stop them from feeling the loss of their last moments in high school.

“I feel personally guilty,” said Velasco. “I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation, when I know there are serious things happening in the world around this disease, but I’m still upset about it.”

It is still uncertain when students may be able to return to the building to gather personal items or to return textbooks/other school materials.

“I feel like the class of 2020 has handled this pretty well,” Russo said. “I feel like it could have gone a lot worse, and we’ve all taken it in stride.”

Performance Company, last semester. Submitted photo

Homestead received board approval to put up holiday lights through May 31, and the Watsons got to work decorating. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Residents in the Homestead North subdivision are brightening spirits during the COVID-19 outbreak by putting up Christmas lights in their front yards.

“The Christmas lights always give people hope,” said HOA board member Andrew Harrison. “It’s something you can do that all your neighbors can see easily.”

It took the homeowners’ association board of directors five days from ideation to approval of allowing residents to hang holiday lights on their homes, a decision made Wednesday.

According to Harrison, secretary and board member of the Homestead North HOA, the idea came from a member of the board after seeing an article detailing holiday lights in public places that had since closed due to COVID-19 precautions.

Homestead residents received an email from the HOA board, detailing the initiative to hang lights as “An Act of Solidarity.”

“This small act is a statement of support for all those who have been impacted by COVID-19 and to show our solidarity in overcoming it,” the email read.

Sarah Watson, a Homestead North resident, said it’s the children of the neighborhood who benefit the most.

“I think it’s such a good idea, just to be able to go walk around, if it’s warm enough, or drive around, get out of the house, all while being safe and following the CDC guidelines,” Watson said.

With an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old, and a 3-month-old child at home, Watson said the family has experienced frustration

Sara Watson. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

and concern amid the COVID-19 outbreak, with potentially missing a graduation ceremony and making sure her infant isn’t exposed to the virus.

As the family navigates changes in their daily routines, the lights have provided “something to smile about,” Watson said.

Derick Fröm has been a Maricopa resident for two and a half years. He and his wife Cortney have five children from ages 2 to 11.

Fröm said he would love to see more families participate in hanging up lights.

From left, Cortney Fröm, daughter Rowan, 4, and Derick Fröm. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

“It would be nice to see more kids out playing,” Fröm said. “We would love to see more people do it.”

Cortney Fröm said her children love being outside, and the lights are a way to enjoy the outdoors while practicing social distancing.

“I like decorating. The kids love it,” Cortney said, “and people have told us, it’s nice turning the corner and seeing the lights up.”

The From House. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

While children can benefit from seeing the lights, neighbors of all ages are seeing additional positive effects of the holiday lights appearing during a social distancing period.

Kevin McCrary. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Neighbors Kevin McCrary and Sumer Moriarity have both experienced a growing sense of community in their neighborhood.

“You can see your neighbor, and you’re both social distancing, but you can say, ‘hi,’ if you’re putting up lights or working in your front yard or doing something,” Moriarity said. “It’s a way to stay in contact with people without being too close.”

McCrary, a senior resident down the street from Moriarity, said his neighbors check up on each other frequently during an uncertain time.

“It’s a way to bring people by the house and talk to us at a safe distance. I think it’s just really trying to bring the neighbors closer together,” McCrary said. “My neighbors have offered to pick things up while on Costco runs, you can see it on Facebook, there are a lot of people that are pulling together and really trying to help each other.”

Jaime Harrison, sons Jack, 8, and Oliver, 2, and Andrew Harrison. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Harrison said he would like to see more residents of the neighborhood participate in hanging their lights. A father of two young children, Jack, 8, and Oliver, 2, Harrison said he has seen children playing in the streets and their front yards more often now that children are home for most of the day.

“I feel like I’m back in the Midwest again,” Harrison said, “where everybody plays outside, knows their neighbors and helps each other.”

The Homestead North HOA board approved light decorations through May 31.

The Walgreens on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway is nearing completion of its interior rehab. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Walgreens is under interior construction and maintenance on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. The location received approval for a liquor license from city council March 17.

Though on the corner for years, the site never opened as a store, with halted development leaving behind a 10-year-old, unoccupied building. It finally receiving maintenance updates and permit approvals earlier this year.

According to maintenance crew, operations are expected to begin sometime in late April, though this has not been confirmed by the owner or management of the store. A grand opening date is uncertain given COVID-19 concerns.

Meanwhile, the location on John Wayne Parkway has been a focal point for consumers during the COVID-19 outbreak and has had a line people waiting for doors to open.

Lines of customers became common this week at the Arizona Law Dawgs gun store. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera


Business owners say panic buying and food shortage led to an increase in sales of firearms and meat cuts.

Arizona Law Dawgs and The Box Meat Shop have seen their businesses impacted by consumers worried about what is to come from the spread of COVID-19. The two storefronts, which are next to each other on Hathaway Avenue, have seen lines of customers outside their doors every morning for the past week.

Both shops cite COVID-19 fears and ripple effects for their increase in sales.

Customers at The Box Meat Store quadrupled this week as meats ran short in grocery stores. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Arizona Law Dawgs is a firearm and tactical-weapons shop that has been owned by John Callaway II and his wife Jennifer for seven years.

“It’s panic. They’re panic-buying,” Callaway said. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Some of the other states are experiencing people getting robbed.”

Jennifer Callaway agreed COVID-19 was driving an uptick in customers, something she has never seen before in the business over seven years of operation.

“They’re concerned about somebody kicking in their door,” Jennifer said, “and they want to be ready.”

The average number of customers the store is seeing per day has doubled since the beginning of the week.

“The past couple of days have had us wiped out,” said Anthony, a long-time employee of Arizona Law Dawgs. Anthony chose to withhold his last name from publication.

Jennifer Callaway

Anthony has worked the counter with customers all week, describing it as, “wild,” saying patience goes a long way in the store.

“I had one guy who was a little impatient. He started yelling at me and wanting to come in and get out with a firearm,” Anthony said. “I had to tell him, yelling at me is not going to speed the process up at all. He has to respect the process and have patience when we’re already overwhelmed.”

There has been a shortage of multiple handguns, including 9mm and 10mm, and background checks have had trouble running. Earlier in the week, the store had to close early due to an issue with running background checks.

“The system is overwhelmed with the amount of people buying nationwide. So, you might get people who could normally proceed, but they just get delayed because it’s backed up,” Jennifer Callaway said.

Wait times for a pending background check can take as long as four days.

In the store, there have been shortages of almost all ammo, including 9mm, .223 rem, 5.56 mm, .38 special and .357 magnum.

John Callaway

“My distributors are five to six days behind,” Callaway said. “Supply chains are out of stock. I do sales online; I’ve had to refund three of them because product just sold too quickly. [Restocking] has been a never-ending battle. I tried to stay ahead of the curve, and starting yesterday the curve got heavy. It’s challenging to me because I always want to succeed and it feels like I failed a little because I can’t keep up with the demand of the customers.”

The Callaway’s are encouraging people to come in to the store to get the most up-to-date grasp on what is available in the store at any time.

“The money is good now, but what’s going to happen when all this is over? Everybody has their firearms and their ammo, we’re going to see a decrease in sales.” Jennifer said.

Meanwhile, next door at The Box Meat Shop, the year-old storefront fills in the gaps where other stores have run out of food due to so-called panic-buying. Karen Pozzolo works in the store, owned by her husband Luis.

Karen and Belen Pozzolo

“Customers are coming from everywhere, all over Maricopa, outside of Maricopa, a lot of new customers,” Pozzolo said. “It’s to be expected because there is no meat in town, so we’re the only ones who have anything to buy for everybody.”

The shop now sees a line out the door every morning at opening.

According to Belen Pozzolo, Karen and Luis’ daughter, there have been nearly four times the normal number of customers purchasing meats, also beginning early in the past week.

“I feel like my parents are just trying to be nice because they know what it’s like to have to struggle. So they would rather help other people in this situation,” Belen said.

The Pozzolos work quickly to keep the cases stocked at the high-end meat store. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

The Box Meat Shop has seen business go up in a positive way because they are able to provide food for the community without worries of distributors running low, according to Pozzolo. The store is restocked two to three times a day as needed. So far, there have been no issues in restocking for the shop.

“Yes, we’re having good business, but it’s a good feeling to provide for everybody,” Pozzolo said. “Some people don’t have anything, some mothers are working all day and they don’t have time to go and get some meat, so we’re here for everybody.”

Pozzolo said prices are expected to go up slightly for meats starting Monday.

Arizona Law Dawgs is not expecting their prices to go up on anything in the store as of now.

“Those of the people that bought guns, be safe.” John said, “Remember the basic gun rules. If you’re going to buy a firearm, it’s a tool and you have to know how to use that tool. A lot of people who have purchased out of fear need to get training and learn how to use a firearm correctly.”

Staying stocked has been a struggle this week for Arizona Law Dawgs. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Guests in costume on the dance floor at the Seeds of Change Gala. Photos by Joycelyn Cabrera

Against Abuse Inc. put on its annual Seeds of Change Gala Feb. 29 at Province Town Hall. The event raises funds for the maintenance of the Maricopa shelter, topped off by an $8,000 donation from Maricopa Ace Hardware.

Mike Richey (right) and Jacquie Richey (center) on behalf of Maricopa ACE Hardware donates $8,000 to Against Abuse Inc., accepted by Torri Anderson (left).
The opportunity to gamble brought in more dollars for the fundraiser.
Raffle tables filled with gift baskets from sponsors and donors were available.
A live DJ plays music from multiple decades as far back as the 1920’s and as recent as the 2010’s.
Couples dance together before raffle winners are announced. Mayor Price and wife Cindi are among the pairs.
Torri Anderson with the Board of Directors for Against Abuse Inc. organizes the Seeds of Change Gala annually.

Engineering was introduced to Maricopa High School's CTE offerings this school year. Photos by Joycelyn Cabrera

Levi Watlington wishes it could have happened much earlier in his academic career.

The Maricopa High School senior is an aspiring computer scientist and a student of the school’s inaugural engineering course.

“If I were to go into a different field, like an engineering field, I think this would really help me,” he said. “We built a bridge out of toothpicks. Engineers need to account for suspension and how much weight is going to be on the bridge. We made catapults; it’s a pretty fun class.”

Engineering finished its first semester at MHS as a Career and Technical Education course. Students are taught different elements of engineering, including electrical, mechanical and software. The program is available in three sequences: Engineering I, Engineering II and Engineering III.

Aian Pableo teaches the course twice a day. Pableo, originally from the Philippines, got his master’s degree in electrical engineering before coming to the United States to pursue teaching. He teaches college and high school level classes.

“I’m still adjusting, I’m still learning,” he said. “I’m happy when students learn something from me, when they say, ‘Ah ha!’”

Michelle Poppen is the CTE director and a vice principal of MHS.

“Engineering can help to build on [critical thinking] skills, bring the math skills into a practical realm,” Poppen said. “One of the nice things about CTE is to apply what’s being learned in the core subject areas and then being able to apply those skills into real life experiences.”

Levi Watlington

While not the only subject taught in class, circuitry was an in-depth unit the students learned during their first semester with Pableo.

Sophomore Charles Lyndell dreams of becoming an inventor. He said the accomplishments of Thomas Edison inspired him to pursue inventing.

“I’ve learned different kinds of ways to measure electricity, volts, currents, resistance and some different ways to draw blueprints and ways to read how much electricity there is in something,” Lyndell said.

MHS provides 12 CTE programs for students. After surveying the students on campus last year about what programs they would like to see, engineering and fashion design were among the top choices.

Sophomore Kyle Draper said what he learned in his engineering class ties into his after-school robotics club.

“I go and sit down and I learn a new concept. One time we learned about circuits, and it was always very fun to figure out how electricity works and how the circuits are.”

Kyle, still unsure of his future career, said he is looking into chemical engineering.

Charles Lyndell

The engineering program is a new opportunity for students at MHS to prepare for their careers after graduation.

“This is a foundation; it’s basics for them,” Pableo said. “If they were to push through to college for an engineering degree, this would help them.”

After finishing his first semester teaching an engineering course at the high school level, Pableo said he is ready to adjust his teaching style according to feedback he gets and mistakes he’s made.

“He’s one of my favorite teachers,” Watlington said. “He’s laid back, but also we get our work done and everyone likes him.”

This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.


What: Great Gatsby Seeds of Change Gala
When: Feb. 29, 6 p.m.
Where: Province Town Hall
20942 N. Province Parkway
How much: $50
Benefiting: Against Abuse

Against Abuse Inc. hosts its 15th annual Seeds of Change Gala Feb. 29 to fund maintenance and operational expenses for its Maricopa shelter for women and children, La Casa de Paz.

The event will be held at Province Town Hall. Tickets are available for $50 and will be limited to 300 guests.

“It’s always been a way for businesses to come together and network and share their passion of helping the community with one common goal,” said Torri Anderson, Gala chairperson and Against Abuse board member. “And that’s what the shelter does.”

This year’s gala, advertised as a “Great Gatsby Gala,” is Roaring ‘20s themed. Costumes are welcome, and the night will include food, DJ, raffle and silent auction.

The first gala was held in February 2006 and raised $60,000 to fund construction for the Maricopa shelter. Against Abuse Inc. received a $300,000 donation from the Ak-Chin Indian Community for completion.

Now, funding goes directly to upkeep and operations.

“To keep the building open, it takes about $100,000 a year,” Anderson said. “That can go up or down depending on if a waterline breaks or a freezer goes down. That’s what we plan on for people, salaries, light, electricity, kind of everything for an entire year.”

Against Abuse Inc. has provided services and support for survivors of violence in Pinal County since 1981. Fundraising for the organization in Maricopa began in 2005, and the Maricopa emergency shelter was opened in 2015. Against Abuse has been continuously raising awareness of local resources for survivors of violence.

After years of selling out, those considering attending are advised to purchase tickets early for the 21-and-older event.

“People can come up in their Great Gatsby outfits, have a good time and support a cause that’s near and dear to your heart,” Anderson said.

This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Vinny Fiordilino of Brooklyn Boys Italian Restaurant. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera


As the final fixed increase to minimum wage hits, local businesses are adjusting.

Jan. 1, the state of Arizona increased minimum wage from $11 to $12, after several increases from previous years. In 2021 and beyond, Arizona’s minimum wage will change based on the cost of living in the state.

Local business owners shared the struggles of running a home-grown business under rising minimum wage, costing the employers more money from limited resources.

Headquarters Restaurant and Bar owner Alma Farrell discussed tough choices the eatery has to make. Since the minimum-wage increases started in 2016, she has had to raise prices.

Alma Farrell, owner of Headquarters. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

“You have to keep your customers happy because they don’t want you to raise the prices, but how can you not raise them? How do you keep your vendors happy?” Farrell said. “That’s the biggest issue, is trying to find the balance to raise the wages for your employees, keep the vendors that you have, and keeping the customers happy.”

Arizona voters passed Proposition 206, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, in November 2016, when minimum wage was $8.05. The initiative implemented two measures into law: minimum wage increases until 2020 and paid sick-time requirements.

Brooklyn Boys has been a locally owned restaurant in Maricopa since 2007. The owner of the New York-style Italian restaurant, Vincent “Vinny” Fiordilino adjusts the budget with each minimum-wage increase.

“Looking at a different point of view as an owner, especially when business is kind of slow, it hurts. It hurts a lot because you’re always on a tight budget,” Fiordilino said. “It’s a rough business, no matter what kind of store you have, but you adapt and you go with the flow. You try to make the best out of it.”

The Industrial Commission of Arizona implements and enforces Prop 206’s requirements.

The current state minimum wage far exceeds the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which Arizona has been above since 2010, when the state last matched the nation’s hourly wage. According to the U.S Department of Labor, in 2011, Arizona raised its minimum wage 10 cents above the federal wage and has been increasing it ever since.


Pat Kieny of Native Grill and Wings

Maricopa’s Native Grill and Wings is part of a chain of locations across Arizona, Texas and Illinois. The raises since 2016 have caused layoffs and cut hours while the restaurant figured out ways to reduce supply costs. Native Grill also had to recover from a months’ long closure in 2019 after a fire.

“Some places end up closing and stuff like that when minimum wage continues go up. It’s too early to tell how it’s going to affect us,” owner Pat Kieny said of the latest increase. “Hopefully it’s not too damaging. So, all we can do is wait and see and keep moving forward.”

 Another demographic affected by the minimum wage increase is the employees. Maricopa High School graduate Harrison Edmondson, a full-time Arizona State University student studying supply-chain management, said his major gave him a lot more insight into how minimum wage can affect people within the same community very differently.

Harrison Edmondson

“Small business-wise, they rely so much on community support and community engagement, that when they have their operating costs increase, they’re going to have to lay people off or cut hours, benefits,” said Edmondson, who works as a community assistant for ASU and previously worked at Fry’s. “But, unfortunately, if they can’t afford to pay these workers and decrease the profit margin a little bit to cut the labor cost, I just feel like they may need to reevaluate the business model.”

Edmondson said he has struggled to keep up with expenses despite the increases in pay.

“Budgeting was always something that I tried to do, but considering the amount of money I made, I still wasn’t able to cover my basic expenses. I had to get a credit card to help cover the expenses, so I have a little bit of credit card debt right now,” Edmondson said. “Personally, whatever medical expenses come up for me, I am basically not able to pay those at all.”

According to the U.S Department of Education, the average cost of in-state college tuition in Arizona was $9,337 from the 2018–19 academic year. This does not include housing or other costs. This is $1,114 less than the previous year (10.7% decrease). This also is representative of one academic year; students will typically pay four to six years of university tuition.

Arizona now has the fifth highest minimum wage in the country, tying with Maine and Colorado, which share the $12 hourly wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Only Washington, California and Massachusetts are higher.

Antonio Gonzales

Maricopan Antonio Gonzales is a full-time ASU student who also has to make ends meet working entry-level jobs while attending school. He is currently employed at a Chipotle.

“I think it’s a good thing, but I don’t think it’s going to solve all of the problems that everybody thinks it will,” Gonzales said. “Minimum wage jobs aren’t for people that are trying to support a family and pay off the house and all that stuff. It’s an entry-level job, and then people use that and build into a career where they can afford that stuff.”

Local government is also affected by minimum-wage jumps, as many minimum-wage employees provide various services for the City of Maricopa. Spokesman Adam Wolfe said the City has 71 employees impacted.

The 2018 median household income for Maricopa sits at $68,908, 16% higher than the state’s $59,246, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Over the past decade, the average annual cost-of-living adjustment has been about 1.5%. The cost of living in Maricopa has risen 2.2% during the past year, with the biggest increases in transportation and food, though housing is edging up, too.

 Minimum wage will continue to increase to accommodate any rising cost of living, which means some years may see no increase, large increases or small increases depending on what is deemed necessary by the Industrial Commission.

“Hopefully, it’ll get easier from this point on,” Fiordilino said. “I’m all for this for the employees, because I used to be an employee once before being an owner, and I understand what kind of hardship they go through, making a living. However, being an owner has its perks and disadvantages. Owning a business is not easy.”

This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Center helps public safety, nonprofits embrace domestic violence victims

After a year in operation, Maricopa Family Advocacy Center has proved its necessity in the community’s efforts to combat domestic assault.

It joined Against Abuse Inc. in assisting survivors of domestic violence. Those who live in Maricopa can seek shelter or medical attention close to home, which has not always been the case.




“Can you imagine getting sexually assaulted and then getting into a car with a stranger?” said Mary Witkofski, founder of the Maricopa Family Advocacy Center. “Victims sometimes decline participating in the criminal justice system due to the amount of travel, or decline in getting that examination.”

Witkofski is programs manager with the Maricopa Police Department. Before the center opened in January 2019, survivors had to turn to law enforcement or travel to the nearest center for medical care and investigative procedures with victim’s advocates – more than 45 minutes away to Eloy, San Tan or Mesa.

The long travel times for treatment is a contributor to unreported cases and women staying with their abusers, according to Dynia Abraham, domestic and sexual violence residential services director for Against Abuse Inc.

“One of the first questions after disclosure that they say is, ‘Where is it? How far? Is this something that takes a really long time?’ because people are in crisis in that moment in time,” Abraham said. “And when those answers were different,’ we would get a lot more, ‘No, thank you, I just want to go take a shower and lay down.’ We don’t see that much anymore. ‘It’ll take 15 minutes,’ and they’ll say, ‘OK.’”

The Turnaround

Dynia Abraham, domestic and sexual violence residential services director for Against Abuse Inc., said her most memorable case at the Maricopa shelter involved a mother and her children becoming self-sufficient while utilizing their resources.

“We had a mom with a few children come into our shelter program, she was married to someone who would not allow her to work or to interact with her children,” Abraham said. “So, her children were at home but she wasn’t allowed to talk to them. She was assaulted, so she came in, we provided domestic violence support group and education for her.

“She was able to get her first job while staying in shelter, her first bank account, driver’s license, she became very independent. She bonded and grew a really deep relationship with her children, she did end up getting employment. After a few months she was able to get an apartment.”

One survivor, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her and her children from re-victimization, provided perspective.

“Because of what happened, our house was destroyed,” she said. “We were homeless, we couldn’t even move back in. Every window was shattered, one of the bullets had hit a water line so the bottom of the house was six inches in water, the ceilings in the bathroom and laundry room had fallen in; it was an absolute disaster.”

The survivor said the exit plan for her family would have looked much different had she had access to a center in town at the time.

“What would’ve been different and really helpful to me and my family is, because our situation involved a crime other than domestic violence, we were taken to the police station,” she said. “I think they would have taken us to the advocacy center and had the police come there, which would have been a lot easier on the kids and I.”

At the police station, the family was provided a change of clothes after the abuser had died on the scene.

“When you’re at the police station, it [is] an open room with fluorescent lights, and we’re not even wearing our (own) clothes, and we’ve been in a physical fight, and it’s uncomfortable,” she said. “Whereas at the advocacy center, we would’ve felt much more comforted. So, it would’ve made a big difference.”

The Maricopa Family Advocacy Center is a program within the Maricopa Police Department.

MPD Officer Donnie Burnias has firsthand experience responding to domestic violence calls throughout the community. He said he gets them every day.

“It’s probably one of the most common calls in the country,” Burnias said. “Everyone lives together, everyone has problems, and sometimes those problems need the police department to intervene.”

Maricopa Family Advocacy Center 2019
Survivors 96
Interviews with minors and vulnerable adults 50
Assaults: physical, sexual, child abuse, elder abuse, strangulation

Against Abuse Maricopa 2019
Adults 220
Children 189
Nights of housing 15,267

Abuse Reports
Daily calls to domestic-violence hotlines nationwide: 20,000
Arizona hotline calls in 2018: 39,000
Pinal County hotline calls in FY 2019: 706
The Arizona Department of Economic Security estimates 10 million people a year are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.

Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence reported 73 domestic-violence-related deaths in the state from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2019. That included an incident in Maricopa that resulted in the deaths of two adults and an unborn child.

“I expect the numbers to go up because the services are there and available,” Witkofski said. “More comfortable reporting, not having to travel, having the center here raises awareness.”

According to Witkofski, law enforcement can respond to a call on domestic violence and then bring the victims to the center, or the victim can call crisis lines and request a victim’s advocate to escort them.

“All the patrol officers work very closely with Mary and the FAC (Family Advocacy Center),” Burnias said. “Anytime the Victim’s Assistance Program or DVRT (Domestic Violence Response Team) needs to go to a residence, we go with them.”

Burnias said the role of local police is de-escalating the situation and assisting the survivor with any criminal law questions.

Many survivors have gone through the advocacy center and have been turned over to Against Abuse for emergency housing after initial investigations.

Against Abuse is a nonprofit organization offering resources for survivors of violence. Against Abuse offers emergency resources like the advocacy center, but also long-term resources to guide survivors back into society.

In fiscal 2017, the Arizona Department of Economic Security recognized Against Abuse in a Programs Fund Report for providing the fourth-highest number of shelter overnight stays for men, women and children.

“It’s a really important resource to have,” the survivor said. “Women and children need a place to go, and there are sometimes men also. But we really, really need it here. Sometimes these women come with the clothes on their back if they’re even lucky to have that.”

Advocates from Against Abuse provide calls to places of employment and landlords, legal advocacy, job interview accompaniment and supervised visitation for children, among several other services.

“Our goal is to provide services, support and education to all who experience the effects of family dysfunction or violence,” said Torri Anderson, an Against Abuse board member.

Anderson has worked on the board 15 years, after identifying the need of domestic violence services in Pinal County with various other members. She said the community has become more empathetic and aware of domestic violence survivors compared to other communities around Arizona.

“Domestic violence is a very serious thing,” Burnias said. “It impacts the whole family. It can get to the point where people’s lives are being lost due to domestic violence. We have to be sympathetic to this family and talk to them and kind of figure out how can we assist them, so that both parties are safe from each other, and give them information about the next step.”

This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa. Joycelyn Cabrera of Maricopa is a student at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at ASU.