Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
University of Washington Bothell alumna Abigail Maurera ’23 embodies Emerson’s words, serving her purpose through serving others. Over the last six years, Maurera has worked with the Filipino Youth Reunite to Elevate program where she has encouraged youth from across King County to be creative in their problem solving, disciplined in community engagement and active in intergenerational community connection and healing.
She did the same on the UW Bothell campus as a student majoring in Health Studies, too. She served as civic engagement coordinator for the Social Justice & Civic Education student organization where she brought students, staff and faculty together to support those in need through events and donation drives.
“Abigail is an extraordinary community leader who, in developing her own leadership, also supports the leadership development of those she works with,” said Nikki Caintic, program coordinator for FYRE. “She is a compassionate young leader who will help transform the experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander communities.”
In recognition of all Maurera has done for her various communities, she was named one of this year’s Husky 100 honorees. Each year, the UW recognizes 100 undergraduate and graduate students from the Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses who are making the most of their time at the University. The recipients actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom, applying what they learn to make a difference on campus and in community.
From fast-food to farming
While in high school, Maurera first began working with her community through FYRE, a program for young people interested in gaining leadership skills, building community and learning about issues that impact Filipino youth — such as the growing rates of obesity and diabetes.
According to a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, the prevalence of diabetes increased from 3% to 4.1% and obesity from 32.7% to 40.9% from 2009 to 2020. The study also revealed that obesity contributes to up to half of new diabetes cases annually in the United States.
“Communities of color are disproportionately affected and are at a higher risk for becoming diabetic and obese,” Maurera said. “Fast food corporations are located in targeted areas where there are high populations of people of color who are more susceptible to purchasing these meals that are both easy and affordable but extremely unhealthy.”
To help her community, Maurera created an alternative solution. Through FYRE, she developed and distributed seed-starting kits to BIPOC youth and families across King County. The kits included culturally relevant vegetables such as string beans, bok choy, Japanese eggplant and tomatoes as well as instructions and a growing guide.
“I understand the struggle firsthand,” she said. “The majority of my eating habits during my childhood involved purchasing fast food because the meals were cheaper and more convenient. By sending out seed kits to families, we were able to provide our community with materials and skills to foster a healthier lifestyle.”
Personal and professional purpose
Maurera was able to continue this line of work through a Community-Engaged Learning & Research course she took in the winter of 2022 at UW Bothell. Unlike more traditional classes, CELR courses are hands-on, reflective, skill-building opportunities for students to engage with campus and community projects.
She spent the quarter researching health and social services in the King, Snohomish and Pierce counties for two local organizations, Global to Local and Washington West African Center. At the end of the six-week class, Maurera had found 20 community resources on housing, many of which served low-income families and offered on-site services such as English classes and youth programs.
“As I was gathering different housing resources for the organization, I realized this type of work gave me a sense of fulfillment and purpose. It was a turning point for me,” she said. “I enjoyed learning about the available resources in Washington and working with nonprofit organizations to provide tools for the community. I knew I wanted to use my Health Studies education to truly help underserved communities.”
Soon after, Maurera started working as the civic engagement coordinator for Social Justice & Civic Education, a student organization at UW Bothell that coordinates educational events on campus to promote social justice, accessibility and equity.
In December 2022, only a few months into the position, she spearheaded a toy and toiletry drive for families who were spending their holidays at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“We had a designated spot on campus for donations that our team would later take directly to the hospital,” Maurera said. “Holding this drive taught me the importance of providing resources to communities in need as we were able to lessen their worries and provide comfort and warmth during challenging times.”
I enjoyed learning about the available resources in Washington and working with nonprofit organizations to provide tools for the community. I knew I wanted to use my Health Studies education to truly help underserved communities.Abigail Maurera, 2023 UW Bothell alumna
As a person of color and someone who was a low-income student, Maurera is driven to educate communities and to promote health equity.
“I plan to use my knowledge to fill in the gaps of information about different diseases and chronic illnesses in my community,” she said. “My goal is to utilize my cultural awareness to specifically cater to each client’s needs and make them feel comfortable and at ease under my care.”
Through her education at UW Bothell, Maurera said she learned that there is so much more to an individual’s health than just their physical condition.
“As an aspiring public health professional, I am interested in understanding my community more by listening to their stories of how their biological, social and ecological environments affect their well-being,” she said. “The more I discover about health, the more I can share with my community members so that they are more informed about health care resources and how to access them.
“As I continue my education in UW Bothell’s Master of Science in Community Health & Social Justice program this fall,” Maurera added, “I hope to see health more holistically so that I can better care for my community in the way that it needs.”