Two days after Cindi Perla learned that her 28-year-old daughter, Maddilyn Burgess, had been murdered in an act of domestic violence, she woke up with two words in her head.
“It was just there in my brain,” Perla said of that morning last August.
She immediately called her ex-husband, Maddilyn’s father Bill Burgess.
“I said, ‘We need to create Maddy’s House — we need to create a resource, a shelter for women in southern Worcester County,’” Perla recalled. “‘This is what we need to do.’ It just came so naturally.”
Burgess was murdered by her boyfriend, who subsequently took his own life, last August, according to authorities.
A year later, Perla and her family have raised more than $50,000 toward creating Maddy’s House, and through the Maddilyn Rose Memorial Foundation they are continuing to host events for both fundraising and spreading awareness about domestic violence.
They’ve already made some donations to other agency’s working in southern Worcester County, but Perla said the primary focus remains opening a shelter named for her daughter.
The hope is that in the next year, they’ll be able to double the funding they’ve already received.
“The reception that we’ve gotten within the community is very humbling,” Perla said. “Domestic violence is not something that people like to talk about — it’s not a pleasant subject. And a lot of people would rather not address the issue and just go about their day and try to focus on more positive things. Which I totally understand. But that’s not going to solve the problem that we have in our community. If we just look the other way and don’t talk about it … it’s never going to change. In fact, it’s likely to just get worse.”
On Saturday, the foundation is holding a vigil with YWCA Central Massachusetts on the town common in Oxford, where Burgess grew up, that aims to raise awareness about domestic violence and honor victims.
Perla said the last year has been difficult — filled with memories, pain, and tears. But there’s also been growth, she said, with the work on the foundation as a means for healing for her family and a way to focus on positive change.
“There’s great power in reaching out and helping others to work together and to provide the help that our daughter didn’t have in her time of need,” she said. “To be able to provide that to other victims of domestic violence is amazing.”
Perla said she knows her daughter is proud of her and her family.
“Maddilyn wanted to go into nursing, she wanted to go into a career where she could help people,” she said. “That was her nature. She was always looking to help a friend or help anybody in need. She always looked out for the underdog. So I know that she is extremely proud of the work that we’ve done and the work that we continue to do. I get a lot of my strength inside from wanting our daughter to be proud of us and to know that her name will never be forgotten. She’s always in our hearts, and the work we’re doing, we’re doing for her.”
Not a day goes by, she said, when she isn’t reminded or doesn’t think of her 28-year-old daughter, who loved dance and music.
When Perla sees news about other deadly incidents of domestic violence, she finds herself praying for the families who now are like her own. She shares those stories on the Facebook page for the foundation in Burgess’s name.
“I’m not the same person that I was a year ago, at all,” Perla said. “And I never will be. I will never be the same. So when I see stories, it’s painful, it’s heartbreaking. Not of my own grief, but my heart feels for the families, for the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers. My heart aches for the family that is going through exactly what we went through a year ago… That’s where my heart lies.”
Perla said she and her family have found in the last year that awareness about domestic violence — and the resources for those impacted by it — is confined to those who have had first-hand knowledge. With the foundation and the events they are organizing for the coming year, she and her family are working to combat this.
“People don’t want to get involved,” Perla said of combating domestic violence. “It’s not a pleasant subject, but without talking about it, it’s never going to change. There is a stigma attached to it. We hear all kinds of things, ‘She was dressed the wrong way, why did she have too much to drink,’ or those sorts of things. It’s not just women, it’s men, too. Amanda Dabrowski, she did everything right. She had the restraining order, she notified the police, she did all of the things that she was supposed to do, and she was still murdered.”
Perla said Dabrowski’s death is also an example of how domestic violence isn’t limited to a home “behind closed doors.”
“This is coming out into our streets, it’s coming out into our businesses, it’s coming out into our public areas where we’re bringing our families, our children,” she said. “How many families were sitting at O’Connor’s when this happened that are going to be devastated by what they saw? This is the message that I’m trying to say — this affects everybody. It’s not just the victim and the victim’s family. It’s our entire community that’s shaken.”
Perla said she hopes Saturday’s vigil will help bring the community together, pointing out that Dabrowski was from the neighboring town of Webster. The Maddilyn Rose Memorial Foundation is also hosting a charity motorcycle ride on Sept. 15 around the Quabbin Reservoir and a golf tournament on Oct. 12 in Holliston.
“This is so my passion — to really instill some change in our Legislature, in our communities, to really pull people together and say, “Look, this is not OK. This is not OK,’” she said. “Not just because it happened to my daughter, but because it’s not OK to happen anybody at any level.”