Mary Haglund is a self-described risk-taker and tells me that when “she’s in, she’s all in” with everything in her life.
She says this with lightness and sincerity as she shows me the word “surrender” tattooed on her wrist. This tattoo is her daily reminder to open her heart, let go and trust God.
You see, long before there was her popular restaurant, Mary’s Gourmet Diner —and long before she appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart —there was a woman who hit rock bottom over 30 years ago and asked God to intervene. That was the turning point in her life. She says she owes everything to her sobriety and chooses to begin each day with a grateful heart.
This year she stepped into a new season of her vibrant life. With the help of others from the EmcArts Community Innovation Lab she launched a free community support group called Mary’s Mavens. The group seeks to “support”, “empower” and “educate” women in all stages of their lives.
“It’s something I have always dreamed of and really could have used when I was starting my own business,” she says. “The only reason I can say I’m an expert is because I have made all of the mistakes.”
Her intention is to help pave a smoother path for other women in our community. In the six months since the launch of Mary’s Mavens that is exactly what she has done.
How did Mary’s Mavens come about?
There are systems in place in our town that aren’t working. The intention of the Community Innovation Lab is to disrupt those broken systems and replace them with better systems that benefit those without the opportunities they need to succeed. Those with the EmcArts presented the idea of creating a radical experiment and I presented the concept of this group. They told me to run with it. We held our first meeting at 8:30am on a Wednesday and had 60 women show up. I knew there was a need but the turnout really blew me away.
What made you suggest this group as a radical experiment? Why is it important to you?
I feel extremely burdened for women in this culture because we really have been mistreated and often made to feel like we are less than. I’m not saying that in a “poor us” kind of way because it is up to us to change it. It is up to us to institute changes within ourselves. I know how hard it was for me when I started the restaurant and If one woman’s life can be a tiny bit smoother than that is all I need.
For me this is about creating something, a legacy of empowerment, to leave for future generations of women to carry on. I have four granddaughters and I want to leave this world a better place for them to live out their own dreams.
I see myself as a mother bird. Many of the women are in the nest wanting to fly but they’re just confused on how to do it. Through our focus on “support”, “empowerment” and “education” we are able to equip women with what they need and kick them out of the nest to fly. The women in this group really just needed a spark; they are the one’s making all the good stuff happen.
What is a common misconception about the group that you would like to correct?
Originally this was presented as a group for female entrepreneurs and artists but it’s become a space for every woman with a dream. Their purpose for attending does not have to be connected to business. We are getting exposed to women with different backgrounds and the struggles they face. There’s a lot of overlap and it’s eye opening.
What is one thing you hope women take away from Mary’s Mavens?
Today we are more connected than ever thanks to technology but unfortunately we are more isolated than ever. I’m so grateful for our Facebook group and the conversations that happen there. But I cannot stress enough that there is no substitute for what happens when we meet together in person. It’s a shot of support and energy; it’s the kind of empowerment that has no substitute.
What are you looking to accomplish next?
Moving forward I want to do more workshops. We have put out requests for suggestions through the group and we are working on that. We want these workshops to really fill a need and are open to suggestions. We are looking into some potential grant opportunities to be able to fund small micro loans for women in need. In the future I would love to help women in other towns start groups just like this. It really is important and the short-term impact has been so powerful.
Next Mary’s Maven Meeting
Join Mary’s Mavens Facebook Group here for future meeting updates.
A version of this post originally appeared in Winston Salem Monthly Magazine here.