I am often asked what Stella Maris means. The name Stella Maris is a very personal one to me. It is a way for me to honor my late mother and include her mission, her purpose, her light, her love for all into our space and allow others to feel it as well. Stella Maris means female protector/guiding spirit at sea or star of the sea. My mother loved starfish because she loved the poem about Starfish. She lived every day of her life letting anyone she came in contact with, her friends, family and those she helped along the way, know that they matter, they were important and they are valued. No one was ever beneath her. Ever.
My mother, Officer Janice A. Cunningham, had a long list of amazing accomplishments during a time when women weren’t encouraged to be police officers, domestic violence/sexual trauma was incredibly misunderstood and the victims/families had very little resources or available information at their fingertips. When my mother became a police officer she ignored all the criticism she received as the first female officer hired in her town because she had a greater purpose to fulfill. She cared and wanted to make a difference in the world. She started H.U.G.S in 1995 (Help Us Get Safe) which was designed to support and advocate for victims of Domestic Violence and their families as well as provide for those families during their times of hardship. H.U.G.S. is still active today. She served as a DARE officer in the East Bridgewater school system and was loved by both students and faculty alike. She brought so much joy and positivity into the schools and was known for the jingle bells she would wear and give to students during the holidays. She also became the first female President for the DARE Program in Massachusetts. She worked closely with local Domestic Violence programs such as Health Imperatives (located on the South Shore of Massachusetts). She worked tirelessly under the cover of night to help families escape and provide safety from Domestic Violence. She started the Giving Tree program our hometown to make sure no child went without gifts during the holidays regardless of their religion. She also was a 10th degree blackbelt in Kempo Karate, teaching alongside my father at their studio. Her classes? Tots, Childrens’ Karate and Women’s Self Defense of course! She did this without any want of praise or accolade. She wanted nothing ever other than to let people know they matter.
To myself and my brothers she was our mom. She taught us empathy, compassion, strength & humility. She made the best of every day, every adversity, loved every holiday and whose laugh felt like home to me. She was my best friend. After she passed my father passed down her jewelry boxes. As I went slowly through each drawer, each cubby I found countless starfish. There were starfish in every space gleaming back at me reminding me of her love & that her work is not done.
While I cannot even come close to helping others in the way my mother did, I wanted to create a space that honored her work and every single soul that walks into our space. From the students to the teachers, I hope to create a space where people know they matter, they can be themselves, feel empowered, safe and strong in who they are meant to be. I cannot change the world but I hope to make a difference to at least one person so they can do the same and so on…..
Miss and love you mom….143 xoxox