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La Liga de Las Americas

Elizabeth Martínez—A life dedicated to niños

By Marivel Aguirre-Aranda,
La Prensa Reporter

[email protected]

Columbus: Children are the future. Nobody knows that better than Elizabeth Martínez. The single mother of one and Big Brothers Big Sisters Program Coordinator says her calling in life is working with children.

Elizabeth Martínez

Big Brothers Big Sisters is the “oldest and largest youth mentoring organization in the United States.” In Central Ohio, the agency works on fostering “quality mentoring relationships to children and youth in need of a friend.” According to the national organization’s website, in 2004, it served more than 225,000 youth, ages five through 18, in 5,000 communities across the country, through a network of 470 agencies.

Elizabeth’s work with the agency began three years ago. Elizabeth was born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico. She has lived in Columbus for eight and a half years and began her work with children with the English as a Second Language Department for the Columbus Public Schools.

At that time, a colleague recruited her to develop, introduce, and expand community-based programming for BBBS especially as it referred to the Latino community. The program was still in its infancy but it quickly grew.

The site-based programs for Latino students at the schools were already in place for the most part. Community-based programs, on the other hand, needed development. These programs involve one-on-one interaction outside the classroom between the volunteer (Big Brother or Big Sister) and the child (Little Brother or Little Sister).  Community-based programs posed some challenges, according to Elizabeth.

The biggest challenge, according to her, was the fact that mentoring is “a foreign concept” for many Latino parents and they sometimes fail to see the benefit to their children. It was, and continues to be, hard work making many Latino parents comfortable with the idea of their child spending time and developing a relationship with assigned “Bigs.”

Educators are very receptive to the idea of mentoring, says Elizabeth, because they understand how crucial it is to a child to have good role models. They also realize that if Latino children see other Latinos in professional roles they are more likely to stay in school and realize their potential.

As far as children are concerned, Elizabeth says they are more open to the idea of mentoring than their parents. However, sometimes it is difficult to get them to see a volunteer, a complete stranger, as a friend since most of their adult friends and role models come from within the family network.

Elizabeth says there has been great improvement over the attitude of Latino parents and families to the idea of mentoring. This is in part because the families that have participated in the programs provide a referral mechanism for other families.

About one year after Elizabeth joined the agency, the national BBBSA started a program called the Hispanic Mentoring Initiative. This initiative is a national effort to reach out to the Latino community and involve both kids and volunteers in mentoring programs.

Within the agency, Elizabeth focuses on the mentoring initiative component of BBBS, especially as it refers to Latino children.

Elizabeth stated that she “truly believe[s] in what BBBS does” and that “the beautiful thing about working for such an organization is the fact that it is always about children, not merely Hispanic children or American children,” but children in general without distinction to race.


Elizabeth believes that her prior working experience with children give her a work advantage.

The transition from the ESL program to the mentoring initiative at BBBS was an easy one for that reason. Also, the fact that she is Latina helps her to understand and appreciate the mentality of some of the parents and to be more sensitive to their concerns.

Elizabeth is committed to serving the community and especially the children. She is on the Board of Directors of the Latino Empowerment Outreach Network (LEON) and is a member of its Education Committee; she is a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); she works on planning and promoting the annual summer camp trip to Camp Oty’Okwa.

To enhance its efficacy, BBBS has partnerships with organizations around Columbus and the Central Ohio area that play an important role in maintaining high enrollment of children and volunteers. For example, BBBS works closely with the Ohio State University through the Spanish and Portuguese Language Department, LEON, LULAC, and Nationwide.

This past April 7th, LEON recognized Elizabeth at its 4th Annual Community Awards Dinner and Silent Auction. She received the Youth Award for her work to develop and expand mentoring programs for Latino youth of all ages; 90% of the children she works with are Latino. When asked what this award means to her, Elizabeth commented that she does what she does for the love of it.

“It is a blessing for me to serve the Hispanic community,” she added.

It is difficult not to notice a woman who does so much for children and that makes it seem so easy to juggle career, motherhood, and community involvement. Elizabeth says her driving force is just her wish to serve people, in whatever capacity.

Of her son Saúl, she says he influences everything she does and she appreciates the flexibility of BBBS in that regard.

Talking more specifically about her work matching volunteers with kids, she says it’s a good influence on the Latino niños to see both Latino and non-Latino professionals volunteer to mentor them, letting the kids know that they are important enough for these volunteers to see beyond race and language.

Currently, Elizabeth is working on getting ready to recruit volunteers at the annual El Día de Los Niños celebration this April 29th. BBBS will have a booth at the Westland Mall.

If you would like to volunteer at BBBS or want more information, visit: www.bbbscentralohio.org or contact Elizabeth Martínez directly at 614-839-2447 (ext. 102).





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