Maria Blasini is an inspiring individual who has faced numerous challenges in her life but has always found the strength to overcome them and thrive, turning her into the unstoppable trailblazer she is today. 

When she was 12, Maria, her dad, and her sister were at her favorite local fast-food place for a quick bite when out of nowhere, her world turned upside down. She was face-to-face with the barrel of a gun.

“We were picking up some Arturo’s, our version of America’s KFC,” Maria recalls. Suddenly, a group of individuals pointed their guns at them, demanding their money, phones—everything they had. It was the most terrifying moment of her life, a stark wake-up call for her family.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Maria’s life took a transformative turn after being held at gunpoint, and her mom made the courageous decision to move to Miami, Florida to pursue a better and safer life. As a thirteen-year-old in 8th grade, Maria experienced a mix of excitement and apprehension.

“I had my friends and an all-girls school that I loved,” Maria recalls with a lighthearted chuckle. “But I couldn’t help being thrilled about the prospect of going to a school with boys!”

Maria went from a close-knit school community with a modest student population of a couple hundred in Venezuela to a bustling institution with over five thousand students in Miami. While new beginnings can be challenging under the best of circumstances for adolescent girls, Maria’s path was more complex than most. Maria was born with a cleft palate, and even in the most progressive environments, kids can be cruel. This genetic condition had been fuel for bullies her entire life in Venezuela, and Miami would prove no different. As she began her new school, Maria was challenged with mockery and hurtful comments regarding her speech.

But Maria’s spirit couldn’t be dampened. Her determination to rise above adversity shone brightly. She reflects, “I’ve grown accustomed to dealing with bullying, unfortunately. Back in Venezuela, kids would make fun of my speech, but I refused to let that define me.”

After completing eighth grade, Maria underwent a second surgery to complete the closure of her cleft palate. It marked a significant milestone – a fresh start in her journey. “I was bullied because of the way I talked with my cleft palate, but no one’s opinion about me ever played a role in my decision making. I had to complete my surgery in order to eat and drink without trouble. My surgery was for me”.

However, the road to recovery wasn’t easy. She had to relearn how to speak and adjust her vocal modulation. “The surgery meant the world to me—it was another chance at a ‘new beginning’,” Maria shares, her eyes glowing with gratitude. “Afterward, I essentially had to learn how to speak all over again, finding my voice with every word.”

“Since the day she was born, she has been an extrovert,” Maria’s mom recalls with pride. “Despite her challenges, she embraced her essence and her personality. Moving to Miami, I worried that it would be even tougher for people to understand her in a new language. But from a young age, she had an unstoppable positive personality. There has been no obstacle she cannot overcome.”

“Desde chiquita siempre ha sido una niña súper echada pa’lante” – which means she has always been a go-getter.

Maria’s vibrant spirit and resilience were evident even after her surgery. 

“I felt like a new person. I realized that anyone who said something mean to me had their own problem, not me. I learned it didn’t matter if I had a cleft palate, what truly mattered was how I felt and what I thought about myself, not others’ opinions.”

Maria’s remarkable confidence in her own body was nurtured by her incredible support system—her mom and sister. From an early age, her mom instilled in her the values of strength, independence, and confidence. Despite her speech impediment, Maria’s mom consistently encouraged her to be the best version of herself.

“My mom always told me, ‘You can have surgery for your cleft palate, but you can’t cure being ignorant and rude,'” Maria fondly recalls. “This advice from my mom about the cruel views of others helped me focus on personal growth, striving to be a little better each day.”

“Sometimes we become so overwhelmed thinking about a problem we might have when, in reality, we are so small compared to what other people are going through,” Maria shares. “It is important to be mindful and acknowledge what you are going through and what others are going through, and help each other out. We can overcome anything if we work together and treat each other with kindness and compassion.”

Life has a way of teaching us valuable lessons and putting things into perspective. Maria’s journey reminds us to be mindful of our own struggles and the challenges others face. She believes in the power of unity, kindness, and compassion.

After four years in Miami, Maria and her mom realized that they were not truly happy and missed their home and family in Venezuela, so the two of them decided to move back. Maria’s sister decided to stay. However, returning wasn’t as they had imagined. Their beloved Venezuela had changed. Their town had evolved, loved ones were scattered across the globe, and some areas were unrecognizable.

“Venezuela was even more dangerous than when we left four years ago,” Maria reveals. “It was a difficult realization, but we knew we couldn’t ignore the reality.”

Returning to finish high school in Venezuela, Maria faced unexpected challenges. The connections she once had with her friends had faded, and the sense of security she had taken for granted was shattered. Everyday activities felt like risky endeavors, and fear gripped their lives.

“I remember having to take off my earrings, and bracelets, and hide my phone when going out because we were so afraid of being robbed,” Maria recalls with sadness. “What’s even sadder is that everyone had grown accustomed to this fear. It had become the norm. I was shocked and in disbelief.”

Living in constant fear and paranoia, Maria and her mom knew they couldn’t continue in this state. They quickly made a decision to move to Spain, seeking a safer and more stable environment once again.

Navigating a new life in a foreign land alongside her mom, Maria faced the daunting task of finding work and a place to call home. It was during this time that her passion for animals blossomed, leading her to start her own dog-walking business. Motivated and eager to succeed, Maria created flyers, promoting her dog walking services and slowly but surely, clients began reaching out. She would walk dogs in the morning and afternoon every day, balancing her budding business with her school schedule.

Even though Maria fondly looks back at her time in Spain, she acknowledges that it wasn’t without its hardships.

“Being an immigrant can lead to seasonal depression, especially during the holidays when you can’t celebrate with your loved ones,” Maria reflects. “For me, it was particularly challenging because my sister was in Miami, with an eight-hour time difference. What helped my mom and me get through those tough times was focusing on the bigger picture, realizing that we were working towards a better future.”

Maria and her mom became each other’s pillars of support during those difficult moments. As time passed, they made new friends and met wonderful people who made their stay in Spain more joyful and less arduous. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that they were finally reunited with Maria’s sister. This reunion highlighted the importance of being together as a family and cherishing the limited time they have with one another.

After two years in Spain and a heartfelt visit from Maria’s sister, it became evident to Maria and her mom just how much they truly missed having her around. They decided to return to Miami so that all three of them could be together again. 

“Everything that has happened, I see it as an opportunity. I always try to be positive before anything else. When I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself, ‘This is not a problem, this is a situation I will figure out,’”Maria shares.

The anticipation of the future filled her with joy and excitement. She immediately started job hunting and landed a babysitting job, which she committed to wholeheartedly. “Kids don’t naturally come to me, but with them, it was an instant connection. I loved them so much! During the job interview, I admitted that I had never been a babysitter before, but I reassured them that I was determined, professional, and willing to do whatever it took to do the job right. I was incredibly grateful when I got hired,” Maria explains.

After a year living in Miami, the high cost of living became unsustainable for Maria and her family. Once again, they embarked on a new adventure, this time settling in Orlando, where the cost of living was more affordable. Maria enrolled at Valencia College and began searching for a new job. She started walking dogs again, but her income wasn’t sufficient, so Maria had to quickly find another job. She got a job as a nurse’s assistant, where she cared for a quadriplegic young man named Michael.

“This job was very challenging and eye-opening for me. The lessons I learned here are applicable to my everyday life. I’ve become more empathetic. When I talk to people who are upset or in a bad mood, I try to put myself in their shoes and understand that they may have had a rough day or be going through personal struggles,” Maria reflects.

During this time, Maria worked tirelessly to make ends meet. Her daily routine consisted of walking the puppies from 6 am to 7 am, attending school from 7 am to 9 am, working as a nurse’s assistant for Michael, then catching a few hours of sleep before taking on night shifts at Walmart and Sam’s Club. Talk about a hustler!

Maria’s path led her to McKinley in 2019, starting as a Customer Care Associate at Harbor Beach Apartment Homes. It didn’t take long for her team to recognize the value she brought, and she was quickly promoted to Senior Sales Associate. Today, Maria holds the position of Sales Manager, where she plays a crucial role in supporting and guiding our teams to achieve their goals. Additionally, she assists our residents in finding their ideal apartment homes, offering valuable support and guidance throughout the process.

“McKinley has taught me: Opportunity! I had zero experience in the property management industry. I had experience in the service industry, but not in residential. Yet McKinley gave me a chance. They saw my hard work, and I will forever be grateful for that. So today, thanks to that opportunity I once got, my mantra is ‘Where some may not see gold, I see diamonds!’ “

“Her job at McKinley fits María like a glove,” exclaims Maria’s mom. “She is meant to help people. María is a great worker and an even better human being. Every day, María demonstrates her potential for greatness, and it fills me with immense pride as her mom. I am incredibly proud of her!” 

Maria Blasini’s remarkable journey is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. From surviving a traumatic incident in Venezuela to facing multiple surgeries, navigating new countries, and embracing opportunities in various jobs, Maria’s resilience and determination have shaped her into an unstoppable trailblazer. Her unwavering positivity, supported by her loving family and inspiring support system, has allowed her to overcome adversity and embrace new beginnings.