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ABOUT MARA ZÚÑIGA
After immigrating from Nicaragua, Mara called Brooklyn, New York her home. New York, one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth, is a center for business, finance, politics, entertainment, and culture.
Mara and her brothers and sisters attended New York City public schools in mainly depressed areas. Struggling to support their large family, her parents had little time to be involved in their children’s school activities.
Despite all the shortcomings and failures of the New York City public schools, Mara credits the development of her “can do” attitude to the encouragement of the dedicated teachers she encountered along the way. Teaching staff comprised mainly of Black and Jewish teachers provided discipline, direction, and inspiration for the students. At home she was always reminded that she was in a country where anything was possible.
It was while attending college that Mara met and married her husband, Marcos. At the age of 22, they started an asbestos abatement business and at the age of 24 bought their first home in Colts Neck, New Jersey. Mara remained an activist pursuing political changes in U.S. foreign affairs with respect to Nicaragua.
Suffering injuries sustained in a serious automobile accident, Mara was forced to withdraw in her final year of college to undergo intensive physical therapy. During this period her father decided to retire and needed someone to assume management of his auto repair and preowned car sales business. Since all her brothers already had positions in the company, Mara assumed the managerial responsibilities enabling her father to retire. Working in a male dominated field challenged her once again just as it had with her Electrical Engineering studies. She was constantly tasked with proving her skill and knowledge.
Due to her bilingual language skills (Spanish), business acumen, and experience with a variety of world cultures, Mara was subsequently recruited by a mortgage bank to assist in processing mortgages for minority communities. She consulted with many mortgage lenders in various positions as loan officer, processor, underwriter assistant, and regional manager until she moved to Georgia in 2002.
Upon arriving in Buford, Georgia, Mara took a position in the Norcross Georgia Department of Labor (DOL) Career Center as a motivational speaker, coordinator of resume writing workshops, and job placement officer. In 2005, Mara was hired by Countrywide, but the position was located in Athens, Georgia. Still a long commute from Buford, Mara decided to relocate to Athens. She was attracted by Athens’ diversity and metro city-like features. She specialized in lending to the minority communities once again.
Mara has taught English as a second language (ESL) and Government Studies to undocumented residents. She has taught in school and church environments. She has tutored children facing difficulty in Math, at no cost to parents. She has earned the name of “Maestra” with some, which means teacher in Spanish.
Mara has kept up with foreign politics especially regarding Nicaragua. She has seen how power has corrupted what was once seen as a hope for poor countries. Countries that once sought to empower the poor now have small governing bodies that rule, not govern.
Mara and her husband Marcos, along with their daughter and son, have called Athens home for the past 15 years. Her daughter and son have attended and graduated with honors from Clarke County Public Schools. Mara was engaged in the inner workings of the school system as a Local School Governance Team (LSGT) member. As an Athens resident, Mara has been a banker, an investor, a business owner, homeowner, wife, and mother.