Volunteer Spotlight: Marie Martinez


MARTINEZ Marie007Interviewing Marie Martinez is like interviewing a force of nature—she is filled with vivacity and overflowing with passion. When asked about her work and volunteerism, she stops abruptly.

“It’s hard to sum up what it means to me,” she said. “So let me tell you a story. There was a parent here who had a child named Mike who was 18 months old. He wasn’t making eye contact. He would spin and spin if she didn’t stop him. And during a busy party, he never stopped looking at the ceiling fan in the room rather than look at his mom or anyone who came to celebrate.  Everyone kept telling her she was paranoid. That it was cute, a phase or that he’d grow out of it.

The mother was referred to our Developmental Center program and he was diagnosed with autism. She was afraid and had that moment of panic, thinking ‘I’ll never dance with my son at his wedding.’

But we have a wide range of programs and services that can help. And she took advantage of those—and we made a difference. He’s six now, and he crawls into her bed every morning to cuddle and tells her how much he loves her. He’s succeeding at school. He has great friends and he rides his bike. And unless services like ours existed, that wouldn’t have been possible. Helping children like Mike makes it all worth it.”

As the Operations Manager of the Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, Marie is dedicated to helping children. It’s a lifelong focus for her, spending the past 20 years working as an advocate for children in the community.

With Marie at the helm of the Howard Phillips Center, the focus has always been on prevention instead of intervention for children’s welfare. That makes her a natural fit as a supporter and volunteer with Heart of Florida United Way.

Why is child welfare so important to you?

In Orange County alone, there were 14,000 cases of abuse among children and families last year. That’s the second highest in Florida. And that has to change.

By providing a safe place for children, a place where kids feel comfortable, we help kids recover and help prevent abuse from ever happening in the first place. The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families has six programs available that served over 15,000 families last year. From the Healthy Families Program, which helps prevent abuse before it starts, to the United Way-funded Teen Xpress Mobile Healthcare Clinic, we ensure children are healthy, cared for and prepared to take on the world.

Why is United Way important to you?

Quite frankly, the United Way is important to me because it has been a great supporter of the Howard Phillips Center. The United Way’s dedication and focus on prevention is evidence of a community leader that is willing to stand up and make a difference in our community. The impact of what we will accomplish together continues to be measured, but we already know that we are moving the needle and making sustainable change. It’s easy to support the United Way—they support change.

What is one word you would use to describe United Way?

I can’t pick just one! Support. Uplifting. Partner. Network. It all comes together because of the United Way’s work; we succeed with the United Way and identify new ways to help families.

What motivates you to volunteer?

It’s important to me to give back to the community, to make a difference and to live with purpose. I gain great meaning and fulfillment from helping children and families. By helping out, we can impact the community for the long-term.

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