Global Beauty Queen Helps Charity by Going Public on Domestic Abuse

At first glance, Marisa Thomas is simply a beautiful woman with a hopeful outlook and bubbling personality. However, you would never know behind the Ms. Global America US 2011 sash and shiny crown are bruises and a head filled with memories of abuse.
Dec. 13, 2010 - PRLog -- "I just started driving," Thomas, 34, said about the mid-July day she left Jacksonville — and her husband of 12 years — behind. "I didn't tell anyone."

Thomas separated from her husband in February and was living with her sister when she competed for and won the Ms. Global America US 2011 title. A year before, she took home the Mrs. Global America US 2010 title, finishing out her term through the separation.

She considered travelling the U.S., spreading her message of public health, but landed in Tallahassee where she began looking for work.

Before she knew it, she was living in her car and on the verge of giving up hope.

That's when someone suggested Chelsea House, an arm of the Good Samaritan Network, a grassroots Christian charitable organization whose mission is to extend God's love and care to women in need of help.

The friendship Thomas found at Chelsea House helped turn her life around.

"I was at that point where I was seriously thinking about giving up," Thomas said. "When I came here I started believing again in myself."

Chelsea House offers a home to women of all ages and circumstances who are ready to improve their lives and situations. Formerly only for single women, it has recently opened two more houses for women with children.

"Our programs are designed to offer a place to call home, hope for a better tomorrow and healing for the hurting heart," said Beth Burns, Good Samaritan Network founder and director. "(Marisa's) doing what she can to help herself. She just needed someone to help her."

As many as 200 women have gone through Chelsea House since it opened in 2007.

Women are screened before being accepted into the program. They must be drug- and alcohol-free and willing to follow a program that includes helping around the house, attending group sessions and church and progressing toward goals they've set for themselves.

Before leaving Jacksonville, Thomas worked as a hospital switchboard operator for nine years, something that helped inspire her passion for health care.

Thomas grew up in the Bronx and moved to St. Augustine at age 12 with her younger sister and adopted mother.

Married at 22, the abuse she suffered was there from the start; it was both physical and mental.

"The warning signs were there. He was very controlling, but I always made excuses," she said. "Maybe I'm not pretty enough."

She said near the end it was as though he just didn't care at all anymore. She began filing for divorce in September.

As for pageants, she competed in and won her first pageant in 2009 shortly after losing 102 pounds, earning the title of Mrs. Jacksonville U.S. But while she enjoys her pageant work, Thomas' real passion is volunteering, something she's done for years.

"You might make a mistake; but in the end, with faith and perseverance, you can be able to make a positive impact in your own life and to society as a whole," Thomas said.

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A national health walk event initiated to help inspire Americans to attain a healthier lifestyle through education, advocacy and outreach on dietary intake, physical exercise and overall well-being.

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