December 2, 2015

Advancing the common good

By Bill Cirone

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This quote from Maimonides captures the true spirit of what we try to do in our public schools — teaching children from all walks of the life the knowledge, skill, and dispositions they need to thrive and contribute in our democratic society.

Sharing success stories is perhaps the best way to capture the importance of public education in creating an informed and engaged citizenry.

Today I profile and salute Santa Maria’s Andrea Martinez for the path she travelled to her leadership position in our community, along with her passion for education and philanthropy.

Martinez, whose mom worked the fields of Santa Barbara County for 15 years and whose dad left home when she was 10, is the current chair of the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County. She also serves as the membership services director at the Santa Maria YMCA. Prior to that, she worked for the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.

Committed to philanthropy and the values of community engagement, Martinez says, “I think non-profits are part of my DNA.” Recalling her childhood, she remembers how as a child she used to run after her playmates as they pedaled around on their bikes.

It was a rough-and-tumble existence, she says, pointing to the small scar at her hairline, and another one just under her chin. “But we were too poor to afford a bike,” she says matter-of-factly.

When she was five, a local non-profit organization gave Martinez a bike. “That was a very good day,” she says, smiling.

“We were a migrant family,” Martinez, the third of five children, told me recently when I asked about her upbringing. “I attended 10 different elementary schools growing up.”

Despite that instability, Martinez nonetheless did well in school. As an adolescent, her intellectual curiosity began to blossom.

“I was in the AVID program at El Camino Junior High in Santa Maria, and Mr. ‘Milt’ was encouraging students to think about rigorous course selection in preparation for college. I approached him after that session and asked him, ‘What’s college?’”

“I’m sure he fielded plenty of crazy questions from students over the course of his teaching career,” Martinez continued. “But I’ll never forget that thunderstruck look on his face after I asked my question. I don’t think he saw that one coming.”

Today, Martinez, who did not have a concept of college until the seventh grade, is a 2010 graduate from UCSB. A passionate supporter of the power of education, she understands the wisdom of Plato: “The direction in which education starts a person will determine their future in life.” She works to help today’s youth in their quest for education and a bright future.

In January, Martinez will begin her second consecutive term as chair of the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County. The Fund’s goal is to respond to the community’s most urgent needs, by making substantial gifts that translate their values into actions while serving as a catalyst for change on behalf of the women, children, and families in North County.

Recent beneficiaries of their generosity include The Santa Maria Valley YMCA, The Friends of the Los Alamos Public Library, and The Central Coast Literacy Council. The Women’s Fund gave over $75,000 to these three organizations in 2015. Recognizing the needs in our community, Martinez notes that “our focus currently is on education literacy.”

The power of education is exemplified in this daughter of migrant laborers, and today she is a tireless advocate concerned with giving back — in time, resources, and gratitude. Her life’s journey and growth, despite obstacles many of us can only imagine, vividly demonstrate the true function of education, which in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King is “to teach one to think intensively and critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of a true education.”

Andrea Martinez is a role model who uses her intelligence and character to help others, while advancing the common good and making our community a better place. Santa Barbara County is lucky to have Andrea Martinez, and countless others like her, living and working amongst us.