Leader Spotlight: Zoila Bonilla Paul

Zoila is from our Pennsylvania chapter and is a great example of how our leaders are able to recruit people that are like-minded to Free Mom Hugs. Zoila came to us after meeting Vanessa and they have proven to be a strong team!

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

I have always had a huge heart and insane amount of empathy.  I love everyone and I really do live the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  I really love that we are all different and I embrace the uniqueness of all of us. I genuinely am just in love with love. I have always had interactions with people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community including some family and friends.  So, even at a young age I was surrounded by people from all areas of the LGBTQIA+ community.  And because I see people’s hearts above all else, it never registered to me that they were “different” or there would be any reason to turn my back on them.  

It all came full circle then when my oldest child came out to me. The fear I saw in my child’s eyes broke my heart, the knowledge that so many children suffer in silence afraid to be disowned by the very people that should love them unconditionally was what ultimately triggered me to truly know I needed to find a way to help spread love and stop the hate.

My oldest child and my first of 5 daughters now identifies as Non-Binary and their pronouns are They/Their/Them. They are 14 and will be 15 this summer. Originally, they came out to me as transgender female-to-male.  We came out to family and friends introducing “him” as his preferred name. About a year after coming out, they told me they no longer felt that they were transgender but more gender non-comforming/ gender fluid and ultimately settling on Non-Binary.

They are utterly amazing and take my breath away daily for their strength and perseverance in a world that wants to erase them.  I’m also always left awestruck by their incredible artistic skills. They are skilled in all mediums but drawing is at a level that would blow your mind.  I’m one proud mama.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?

The first thing that comes to mind is my intense love I have for my children. I am truly a “Mama Bear.” There is nothing that I would not do for my kids and they know it.  But despite how deeply my children know that I would never turn my back on them, my oldest still battled with telling me. Ultimately it took a suicide scare for them to find the strength to tell me. I found a suicide note and it was they worst fear as a mother that I have ever felt. Sobbing, I turned to my child and begged them to please let me in, to please let me know why they were hurting, and to please let me help. When they came out to me and saw that my reaction was instant love and calm reassurance. I could visibly see the weight lift off of their shoulders and saw a smile emerge that I hadn’t seen in such a long time. That was the moment that I knew in my heart that I could never rest easy knowing I wasn’t finding a way to at least touch one person in a way that would fortify them with love. Everyone deserves that and should not be denied that because of who they are and who they choose to love.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

I am so proud of all of my kids. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to watch them grow, to learn from them not only about myself but also how to be a better person. And that fact that through them I am able to meet more children to love like my own.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?

I heard about FMH from the Serendipitydodah – Home of the Mama Bears facebook group I joined after my reason first came out. I had been looking for support groups to learn how to best support my reason. I saw a post about FMH and I was instantly hooked and in love with the message. When I heard that they were looking to start statewide chapters and were looking for volunteers I IMMEDIATELY offered up my services. I was so lucky to have been chosen to represent Pennsylvania. I met Vanessa “virtually” through the FMH-PA facebook page and I instantly adored her and her amazing heart and spirit.  Her vibe was instantly soothing and loving and everything that I was looking for in a co-leader. She accepted me without hesitation and has been the most tremendous asset to the FMH-PA Chapter.  She is just everything that this message embodies. I feel so blessed to be a part of FMH and to have connected with Vanessa who fills my heart with her sunshine and love.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

What most excites me is the opportunity to be able to touch someone’s life. The hope that I can be there for even one person for just a moment of time and to be the ray of light that they need so desperately at that moment is truly the most amazing feeling ever. I want to find ways to fight hate with love, and to make this a world where no one has to fear being themselves or loving who their heart chooses to love. I am so excited to have the opportunity to be the “mama” that someone may be lacking in their life.

What brings you the most fear?

What I fear most is the opportunity for hate to grow, as well as, the thought that someone is falling asleep at night hating themselves and feeling unloved.

What brings you the most joy?

I get the most joy and fulfillment out of knowing that I was able to bring joy to someone else’s life in some way, shape, or form.

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on:

We are always looking for events to spread our love including speaking engagements or other ways to spread love individually. We hope to send love to someone by flooding their mailbox with words of love and encouragement from our PA members, etc.

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?

I’m a pretty simple person. It’s the little things in life that mean the most to me.  I am very family oriented both within my own family unit and with my parents and siblings and extended family. I have 5 children ranging in age from almost 15, 10, 8, 4, and 2.5 years. My 2 youngest are both Autistic. My days are very crazy and busy, lol, but if and when I get “free time” my personal passion has always been writing. I like to work on any novels and writing projects I have going on at that particular time.

If you want to join Free Mom Hugs and volunteer in Pennsylvania or anywhere, email us at [email protected] and we will get you connected to your state leader!

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