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Matt Martin

An East Coast transplant who came to California for love, he also found his dream job -- working with Petaluma's kids

Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2006 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 29, 2006 at 7:32 p.m.

Name: Matt Martin

Age: 30

Family: Married to Arcelia Moreno, a pastry baker at Della Fattoria. They have a 5-year-old daughter, Dolce Vita Martin-Moreno.

Occupation: Martin is a "youth development professional" as director of operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Petaluma.

Background: Martin and his family have lived in Petaluma for a year, the same amount of time he has worked for the club. They relocated here from Oakland after a few years in the east bay and life on the east coast before that.

"We began looking around and doing research on communities that really embraced children, from the school system to the community at large, that were really kid-friendly. And Petaluma kept coming up on the map," Martin said. "Petaluma had this really strong youth development agency, Boys & Girls Clubs, and I was able to find a position here. It's been a great fit ever since."

How long have you been working with children? Since age 14, when he was a peer leader for a youth group in his hometown of New Bedford, Mass., Martin has felt at home working with youth.

"I really wanted to be able to offer them guidance and be an ally and be there for those particular kids who didn't have people there for them," he said.

He graduated from Roger Williams University with a degree in psychology and a minor in education, then taught school in Rhode Island.

What brought you from the East Coast to the West Coast? Martin met his future wife in Rhode Island when both were volunteering with the Americorps program, helping to build a children's museum.

"It was a total 'Good Will Hunting'-type of story," he said. "I had been entirely homegrown until the age of 23 -- never really left New England, never thought I was going to, and it wasn't an issue that I wasn't going to.

"But I met this beautiful woman, and she moved back to be with her family, who was in Ukiah. I asked if I could follow her, and she said yes."

What do you do for the Boys & Girls Clubs? "I love the position I have," Martin said. "I have the responsibility of overseeing all the critical club operations -- that includes everything from the seven clubhouse programs that exist here in Petaluma to the athletic department."

But he also gets to know many of the individual children served by the club.

"I have had the opportunity to work with the single child who is having behavioral issues in the club -- having some challenges, and coaching them and guiding them, being their ally -- to the larger responsibility of overseeing all the operations," he said. "That includes staffing, training, programs, budget, being community liaison between the club and schools, parks and rec, and club evaluation and assessment."

Getting to know the children at the club is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, he said.

"A lot of members stop in and say hi," he said. "I'll celebrate their successes with them; I'll work through their challenges with them. What I love most about this work is working with those young people who need those allies the most. These are Petaluma children who need someone to come alongside of them and guide them. That, for me, is the crown jewel of the position -- developing meaningful relationships with kids who don't otherwise have them."

Hobbies: Reading, baseball -- "I'm a huge A's fan" -- and gardening, he said.

"I think what I enjoy most of all is just spending time with family, being together and creating lasting memories."

Greatest challenge: "Accepting that I do have limitations. When I first began getting into this work, as a classroom teacher, and even still now, it's difficult sometimes to accept the challenges some young people face that may be out of your realm of influence. What I can only do is be there for them, be a guide, be an ear, be empathetic and listen and work to understand where they are in their lives."

Greatest accomplishment: "My greatest accomplishment is my daughter, on a personal level. Professionally, it is sitting in this chair right now. I don't know what else I would do besides what I'm doing now."

Do you have any hidden talents? "I secretly like to sing -- I can't wait for my wife to read that in the newspaper! I like lounge music -- the sappier, the better. Anything from Frank Sinatra to Neil Diamond. I wouldn't necessarily call it a talent."

Who inspires you? "Frederick Douglass. His story is something that's very inspirational to me, and it's a story that's thread around the city I'm from -- New Bedford, Mass. It's the idea of, 'If there is no struggle, there is no progress.' It's like wanting the rain but not wanting the thunder. Within every child is that potential person who may be enshackled, who may be in turmoil, who needs to be set free. And that's why I'm here."

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? "I'd eradicate poverty, because I think poverty is the cause of a lot of other problems that detrimentally affect the lives of children across the globe."

What's the craziest thing you've ever done? "Leaving home for love -- buying a one-way ticket to California. I drew all the money I had out of the bank, which at that time was a rich $800, and gave my house keys and car keys to my parents, and it was the first time I ever got on an airplane, at the age of 23. I was bound for California with a duffel bag full of clothes and belongings and not sure when I was going to come back. But it's worked out extremely well."

--Interview by Corey Young

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