The Marco Island Civic Association (MICA) Humanitarian of the Year Award was first given in 1998 to honor the unsung heroes of Marco Island, the people who do so much for so many. MICA’s 2011 honoree was revealed at MICA’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 25, and her name is (drum roll please) Maria Elena Pujol.
Arriving from Cuba when she was just six years old with her parents and brother, Maria Elena struggled to start school and learn English in her new home country – the United States. In Pujol’s acceptance remarks she said that the greatest gift her parents gave her was “freedom,” and she is so proud to be a United States citizen.
Pujol’s passion is helping children. From Youth Haven in Naples, to the Florida Future Basketball team in Fort Myers for boys and girls, to helping children with cancer, Pujol is tireless in her drive.
After tragically losing her daughter, Jenny, in a car accident nine years ago, Maria Elena said she was brought back to life by the children of Youth Haven, our community’s sole provider of 24-hour residential emergency care for abused and neglected children. Pujol takes time from operating her hair design studio every month to give the children staying at the shelter haircuts free of charge. Participating in Dancing With the Starz, she raised over $85,000 for Youth Haven.
She cuts hair at no charge for those who wish to donate their hair to Locks of Love, a non-profit agency that provides wigs for people with cancer and other medical problems. Pujol is now teaming with Karen Saeks (MICA’s 2008 Humanitarian) and Bedtime Bundles to cut the hair of the migrant children.
This past Christmas Eve, after working late into the evening, she found the energy to go to the home of a gravely ill client to do her hair and nails, so that when her son visited the next day, he would find his mother looking beautiful!
When a citizen of Marco lost her daughter suddenly in a car accident, Pujol went to give comfort. Her own misfortunes have lead her to give more of herself to others who are hurting. Maria Elena Pujol is an extraordinary person with a big heart and an infectious enthusiasm for helping the children of our community.
In accepting the 2011 Humanitarian Award, Pujol thanked the Marco Island community. She said that her faith in God and the people of Marco help her every day, and she considers herself blessed to assist others as she does. MICA extends its thanks and congratulations to Maria Elena Pujol.