Aug 26, 2019

Alan Martinez - A Street Youth Volunteer Story

Alan Martinez grew up in Bulverde, a town of 4,630 located north of San Antonio. When he moved to Austin to attend UT, what he saw near the campus gave him pause.

“There were street youths all around,” he recalled, “and this was shocking coming from a small city with no people living on the street at all.” He decided to see how he could help, so he did what his generation has been taught to do – he Googled!

Up in the list came Street Youth Ministry. Alan enrolled as a volunteer, and the rest, as they say, is history. “He became the rare volunteer who is an essential part of who we are and who we want to be,” said SYM staffer Suzanne Zucca.

Alan immersed himself in the organization. He joined group activities involving clients, and he did routine chores many volunteers do around the Drop-in Center, including scrubbing an occasional toilet. He organized a volunteer appreciation night featuring a Christmas karaoke event, and he got everyone to sing!

Next, he went a step further. Acting on a suggestion from Terry, he founded an organization of UT students called “Friends of Street Youth” that took things to another level.

Friends of Street Youth recently conducted a successful clothing drive, launched a pen pal program to benefit the small number of street youth who are incarcerated, and held a panel discussion on ways UT students can help the ministry.

This didn’t happen all at once. Alan started slowly, and he acknowledged some trepidation. His success serves as encouragement for any volunteer questioning his or her involvement.

“I was a bit shy coming to a place [the Drop-in] where everyone there knew each other, since most of the street youth that drop by are regulars, “he said. He approached cautiously, asking basic questions. “The way the clients lit up every time they spoke completely calmed all my fears. I realized that most of them love to talk to anyone about anything, like most people, although they were much more honest.”

Because they are societal outcasts, he realized, they’re less reluctant to reveal their silly sides when meeting people for the first time. That made it easier for Alan to tear down his own walls and talk with them. “The advice I would give to others starting out is to ask them anything about their lives, since most have amazing stories which they'd love to share if you'd lend an ear.”

Alan noticed something else. “I love seeing how happy they are to receive things we take for granted,” he said, like the day he was handing out pancakes and saw “goofy smiles” coming back at him. “Afterwards … I’d grab a few pancakes and sit by them. I'd return the goofy smiles as they welcomed me, and we'd talk about things that probably didn't matter but made us happy either way. Granted, while the pancakes were great, the best part was how they continued being happy throughout the entirety of our breakfast talk, all of us together, at that one moment.”

By the time Terry approached him, Alan said, “I had gotten to know quite a few street youths and was starting to open up. I wanted to spread everything I knew about their extraordinary talents and stories to the student population.”

He said he especially wanted to eliminate the stigma against street youth around campus, because those he spoke with told him they felt looked down on or simply ignored, and they were hurt by it.

“This hurt me immensely,” he said, “so, I started the org and invited some of my friends to join me. We've only started up last semester, but we have a steady population of about a dozen people and are getting ready to recruit more through summer freshman orientation!”

Alan gets excited as he describes the SYM staff he has become to know so well:

Of the leader: “Terry is amazing at speaking to anyone, no matter who they are, and initiating a meaningful conversation that pierces their hearts. The way he cares about all the youths really shows as he tries to engage others into activities, and he genuinely wants to know about everyone that enters SYM.”

Of Suzanne: “She is probably the drop-in's unofficial mom, what with all of the effort she puts into cooking for the clients and making sure they've got everything they need.”

Of Darvin: “His calm kindness is expressed towards every single person that walks through the door, no matter the situation.”

Of Billy: “His outgoing personality makes volunteers and the street youth feel comfortable and able to open up.”

Of Portia and Tondra: “They are both such hard-workers; both work a lot behind the scenes organizing a lot of the drop-in to have a welcoming environment, which I admire heavily about them.”

The compliments are returned. “He is not afraid to put himself out on a limb in order to help the clients, the staff, or so many volunteers that he has encouraged to get involved with our organization,” Suzanne said. “Alan Martinez is a force of good in the world.”

“Because of his vulnerability about his own challenges, clients have found freedom for themselves through his example. He is relaxed, he is humorous, he is always kind, and always ready to do things he has never done before.”

1 comment:

  1. Alan is a real blessing to the Street Youth!