Changing the Tune

“You’re the music teacher not the social worker, so this is not your concern.”



This is the sentence that changed the trajectory of Maria Lagattuta’s life. Prior to becoming the director of JBWS’ Morris Family Justice Center (MFJC), Maria was working as a music teacher. Early in her career, she encountered a six-year-old boy who struggled immensely in school. He would act up in class, had difficulty focusing, and constantly challenged his teachers.



However, Maria always got along best with the “difficult” students. Her relentless compassion inspired him to take an interest in her class. Within just a few months, this little boy’s demeanor began to transform so much that he became Maria’s classroom helper.



“Soon after he made this progress, the kiddo was moved to another foster home and was no longer with our school system,” says Maria. “I went to administration hoping to find a way to keep him with us and was told that it wasn’t my job.”



In that moment, Maria decided to make it her job. Shortly after, she left her tenure track position at the school to teach in Washington, D.C. before finally applying to Rutgers University. Once she earned her master’s in social work, Maria took a job reuniting foster children with their families.



Each day, she worked with children, like her six-year-old student, who needed support. Instead of accepting that she couldn’t make a difference in the lives of her students, Maria decided to become the difference.



Now, Maria brings this family focused lens to her work at JBWS’ Morris Family Justice Center.



“At the MFJC, we are able to take a step back and look at how domestic violence impacts the individual and how that shows up in the larger family system,” explains Maria. “We look at its impact on the person, on their children, what supports the person experiencing abuse needs to support their children, and what we need to do to keep the whole family safe.”



The JBWS-led Morris Family Justice Center is comprised of numerous partner agencies that provide critical services to victims of domestic violence, dating abuse, human trafficking, and sexual assault in one location. Each agency within the MFJC must work together to effectively provide support for clients. Since community building has been the crux of Maria’s personal and professional life, the collaborative nature of this work drew her to the MFJC.



And it can all be traced back to her passion for music.



“It’s not about me in this work, it’s about us going out and building these relationships with our clients, staff, and community,” says Maria. “When I think about it, music builds community and it’s what put me on the path toward helping other people.”