“I see it as a challenge. I’m excited because it’s an opportunity for me to really get involved with Latino art and culture, which drew me to the position,” said Ms. Martínez. “In this role, I want to make a real effort in making sure Toledo, as a whole, knows what’s going on here at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, the community as a whole realizes what a cool place, what an asset it is.”
SQACC’s main building will undergo some serious construction in the coming weeks, as a full-service kitchen is added following a “challenge grant” of $35,000 issued by ProMedica. The nonprofit agency’s board had to raise an additional $50,000 to make “Nana’s Kitchen” possible.
Ms. Rodríguez-Winter was instrumental in securing $35,000 from a private donor, as well as an additional $10,000 grant from the Andersons Foundation. SQACC raised the remaining $5,000 at a dinner held Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 at the Beirut Restaurant.
Construction of the commercial-style kitchen should begin in November, following the organization’s annual Día de los Muertos celebration on Saturday, Nov. 1. The back rooms of the center, where art classes and a boat-building program have previously been held, will be converted into the kitchen.
“It’s not a feeding kitchen. It will be a commercial kitchen,” explained Ms. Martínez. “Plans are to get a cooking school, cooking classes going. From the garden to the table, the courses will focus on picking these vegetables from the garden and preparing them—how to cook them, preserve them. It’s going back to our roots, because the Latino culture is all about the earth, gardening, all that stuff.”
The boat-building program for troubled teens will move across the street to a vacant home that was acquired by the center, as its need for space has recently grown. Ms. Martínez pointed out SQACC now comprises six properties, as well as eight community gardens in the Old South End neighborhood—making it essentially a Latino arts and culture “corridor” along Broadway.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” she said. “There’s so much going on here. My role is to let the community know what’s going on so they can take advantage of this resource.”
With a commercial kitchen, the hope is to use SQACC as more of “an events center.”
During any given week, Ms. Martínez stated there could be cooking classes going on, followed by a wedding reception, “or there might be some dance lessons or a Zumba class or an adult art happening.” The center also offers an open mike night, which she hopes to expand to poetry readings and other events.
“I’d like to draw Latino artists on a regular basis so people are hearing them,” she said.
Ms. Martínez started with SQACC last spring as an events coordinator, but that role quickly evolved into art, culture, and education director. Only two weeks into her new role, the La Prensa interview was conducted while she and her teenage son set up for the monthly First Friday event, which featured Adelante’s programs and services.
Ms. Martínez is no stranger to the nonprofit world. She spent 15 years at Mercy Health Partners overseeing its Americorps program, which placed anywhere from 25 to 65 paid staff at various nonprofit groups throughout the community. She served as a liaison with between 12 to 21 partner agencies at any given time—the East Toledo Family Center, the Padua Center, American Red Cross, the Friendly Center, Frederick Douglass Community Center, and Toledo GROWS, among others.
“I am accustomed to collaborating and working on several teams at once, while still being conscious of their goals and missions,” she said with a hearty laugh. “I’ve already been calling around to let them know what I’m doing now. They’ve already offered help, because this is a big challenge, a big responsibility for me. I’m certainly not going to pretend like I have all the answers. I value others’ experience.”
Ms. Martínez also is the daughter of long-time Toledo Latina activist Dolores Rodríguez and admitted she has learned a lot about community service from her mom, who raised eight kids on her own.
“My whole life my mom has been a civil servant,” said Ms. Martínez. “Since a little girl, I’ve been going to this meeting or that meeting, tagging along with her whether I liked it or not. Service, in my family, is extremely important—a lesson we learned from my mom when we were very young. We may have been struggling ourselves, but that was the way we were raised—you have to help others.”
With that culture of servant leadership now instilled and ingrained in her life, Ms. Martínez now “takes pride” in the opportunity to continue it as a profession. She admitted some of her friends and colleagues still don’t understand the mentality she and her siblings have about volunteering their time and talent to various causes.
“I will be out and about in the community, talking about the programs and the upcoming projects happening here,” she said. “I really want the community to know what a special place this is.”
Ms. Martínez, 42, is a single mom with three children—ages 20, 14, and 4—as she put it, “a preschooler, a high-schooler, and a college student.” She hopes those lessons learned from her own mom can be passed down to her own kids, as well as using her new role to teach Latino art and culture to a new generation of young people.
“So we don’t lose it, so we can preserve it, and incorporate it into other realms of life,” she said. “Getting youth to be proud of our culture in positive ways—proud of who they are, proud of their roots, understanding their history, where we come from. Get them off the street and to develop that energy in a more positive focus.”