Maria Mavridis, a busy businesswoman and mother, continues to fulfill a promise made to her mother many years ago.
That promise motivates and energizes her, she says, but those who know her understand her passion and drive to help others also comes from her own strength, and from her heart.
Maria’s mother Vera was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s, and lived through the progression of the disease for 13 years. During that time, Maria recalls, Vera volunteered for organizations that raised money to fight cancer, promoted awareness of the disease, and offered support to others who were going through treatment. She was a young mother then, battling cancer herself with three young daughters at home to care for, and helping other women mostly in their 60s and 70s. Before she died, she asked Maria to carry on her volunteer activities.
Maria’s mother was her inspiration for Anchor Niagara, a local events company Maria founded to promote partnerships and sponsorship throughout the Niagara Region, raising money for local charities.
Her position as a Niagara businesswoman with many friends and contacts in the hospitality industry, and her drive to organize charitable events came together, allowing her to help offset costs for fundraisers, festivals and other events, while at the same time promoting and supporting local businesses.
Maria says many people attend fundraisers assuming items such as food, venue and entertainment are donated. Often they are not, and especially during the pandemic, both not-for-profits and businesses in the hospitality industry have suffered.
With restrictions lifted, it has become easier to begin planning events, and Maria has a long list of applications from charities looking for assistance.
She goes through each one, meets with applicants, and looks at “what they’ve done so far, what they have, and what they need. I also look at whether they are as passionate about their charity as I am about Anchor Niagara I don’t want it just to be about some fundraising job they’ve been given to do.”
When Maria heard about Pink Pearl, which helps young women with cancer, and met founder Elise Gasbarrino, who was treated for ovarian cancer in her early 20s, some of the stories Elise shared brought back memories of Maria’s mother and what she had gone through.
Maria recognized she and Elise shared a passion to help others, and she became part of the team supporting Pink Pearl.
When she was invited to attend one of the retreats for young women battling cancer, she realized “everyone’s raising money for cancer research, but not to help these women when they need support to live their lives. That’s when it hit home for me.”
Through her friendship with Elise and Elise’s sister Melaina, they have all developed friendships with some of the young women they’ve met through Pink Pearl, “and we’ve lost a couple of them. It’s really tough.”
It’s also made Maria wish some of those support programs were available for her mother — when she was sick, nobody her age could relate to what she was going through or the kind of support she needed.
“She was part of a program then to make women feel better, by making them look better. That meant wearing wigs so they didn’t look like they had cancer, not helping them to look or feel better with cancer.”
Much has happened in Maria’s life since then, always with the knowledge that she would carry on her mother’s work, fundraising for cancer organizations and programs.
After her mother died, Maria, the middle of three sisters, had the BRCA blood test that uses DNA analysis to determine an increased risk of breast cancer. Since then, Maria has continued her own journey of tests and regular checkups, including mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies, at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, where they follow her carefully and study what they find, knowing her mother had cancer so young, and that was so progressive.
She knows what it’s like to sit in the waiting room alone — her sisters were at home, going through their own bereavement — she knows the fear of wondering what news the appointment will bring, and how hard it is to process information as it’s given to you. She has also learned the importance of making each and every day count, she says.
That includes helping her community, and especially Elise and her parents, Mary and George, who have homes in the Chautuaqua area, and Melaina, who lives close by, all involved in Pink Pearl programs and the foundation which helps fund them.
Maria believes together the two women are accomplishing something positive and important, and that she is setting a good example for her daughter Hope to follow.
“Pink Pearl hits all the reasons Anchor Niagara was started,” she says,
“Elise knew what was needed in the way of programs and support. They do so many amazing things quietly, but she needed someone to shout it from the roof tops. That’s what I do.”
The Pink Pearl Foundation is not the only charity on her radar. She has a Boyz ll Men concert coming up on June 4 at White Oaks Resort and Spa — another of her partnerships, and often a venue for her fundraisers.
This is a special concert for her, she says. “They have always been one of my faves, and it was always a dream of mine to see them, but I could never get tickets.”
They have one song in particular that has special meaning for her. A Song for Mama — about a mother who was a guiding force for her children, and always there for them — was played during her mother’s funeral, and it will always remind Maria of her mother and her importance in her family’s life.
Maria says she may have gone out on a limb with this one — her love for the band made her think a concert in NOTL would be a sell-out, but she is discovering it isn’t as easy as she thought it would be, at least not yet.
She remembers the day she had to ask Bob, her father, for $80,000 to cover the cost of the band upfront, and says he has always been her biggest supporter, a financial backer when she needed one, and has never said no when she asks for help — he agreed instantaneously that day, as he always does.
Fortunately, he trusts her business sense to make it work, and she reminds herself there is still time for ticket sales.
The concert is a fundraiser for the Hotel Dieu Shaver Rehabilitation Centre, she says, and she has another event coming up, one of her popular Purse Bingos, for Pathstone Mental Health.
There are other fundraisers for Niagara charities in the works, she says, but while she helps other organizations, it’s clear Maria and Anchor Niagara will aways be there for Elise and the work she does to help young women with cancer.
Maria has raised more than $176,000 for Niagara charities through Anchor Niagara, and the need continues to grow, however each time she organizes an event, she gives back to the community in some way. Last fall, she was presented with the Community Impact Award, given out by Women in Niagara, a council of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.
She was humble in her acceptance — she doesn’t do what she does for recognition — but accepted that it would not only raise awareness for her own organization, but could help in her promise to raise money and awareness for other community charities.