SAN DIEGO – Even as the head of the nonprofit La Chula Crew, Chelsea Muniz usually works behind the scenes. She says she’s been in perilous situations in her own life and that’s given her the tools to reach out to help other women in need.

On Tuesday, Muniz was named San Diego’s Woman of the Year through FOX 5’s Remarkable Women 2022 initiative. She was one of four finalists for the honor and will be awarded $1,000 for a charity of her choice.

Muniz was nominated for her work in building out the organization she founded in 2017. Joining FOX 5’s Kristina Audencial and Shally Zomorodi Tuesday, she called La Chula Crew “a support network” that was developed to connect women to needed resources — from hosting monthly group meetings to physically escorting women out of situations where they’re experiencing domestic violence.

“I dealt with domestic violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse,” she said. “That led me into addiction and some other struggles with that. For me, the biggest challenge was feeling alone. A lot of the stigma comes from that and shame comes with it. I found myself connecting with women who had been through similar things.”

Muniz adds, “Through that, we found that coming together helps us empower each other and heal through those things. We can get to a place where we feel we can now offer that support to other people and do the same for them.”

The monthly support groups offer women the opportunity to come together to discuss where they’re at in life. They also provide volunteer opportunities as well as a number of services, such as changing out the locks at the homes of women so that they can feel safe. Another service — done with the help of retired military and law enforcement personnel, among others — is a physical escort to help women leave a domestic violence situation.

In her nomination letter, La Chula Crew volunteer Marjorie Montemayor wrote that Muniz used “grit and positivity” to overcome her own situation and then took a step forward to help others.

“What is remarkable about Chelsea is that she herself was in the same shoes as the people she now serves,” Montemayor wrote. “She knows what it is like to be in an abusive domestic situation, live in your car, be homeless, etc. — and all while raising a family.”

Like many groups, La Chula Crew had to navigate the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Muniz said it was “really hard” as they, too, were dealing with the pandemic, but she called it “an essential time” for the work they all do.

“There were so many women and kids stuck at home in unsafe situations,” she said. “We felt it was very important to still stay active in the pandemic. We did transition a bit from in-person gatherings to online.”

Montemayor also credits her for keeping the nonprofit going in the most challenging of times “so that the most vulnerable populations in San Diego could continue to receive her team’s essential help.”

Upon learning of the honor Tuesday, Muniz teared up, saying she was “happy.”

“I’ve been through a lot,” she said. “I was just trying to offer that support for others so it’s really nice to be recognized for doing all of that. It does get hard, especially through the pandemic and to feel like maybe this isn’t something I should still be doing … I always have in the back of my mind, ‘No, people need this. There’s folks out there that need it,’ and so we keep going.”

Want to help out La Chula Crew? Click or tap here to learn how to volunteer, donate or seek support from the organization.