BHEC Spotlight Matthew Martinez
AmeriCorps VISTA leader Matthew Martinez joined the Behavioral Health Equity Corps (BHEC) in January of 2020. They are currently serving at THEARI and were kind enough to answer some questions about themselves and the work they have done as part of the program.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
From Morgantown West Virginia. Lived my entire life there until recently, until I had the opportunity to leave through the AmeriCorps program. Had a great education with an interest in STEM and language, specifically German. I have had a lot of experience. Growing up I was on a straight and narrow path, running a lot, learning language, doing singing and dancing and show choir. Then college came around, I discovered I didn’t want to be a nuclear engineer as I had decided on when I was 7th grade. I became more involved in the music scene rather than the college party scene. I was always stuck to the counterculture, mostly music, and started on a path of discovery rather than staying focused on the set career path. I knew I had to leave, as I’m a person who wants to grow consistently. I was kicking myself for staying in my hometown, and so in 2019 I started applying for a ton of stuff all over the county. Although the more I get away from West Virginia, now the more I call it home. But that said, I want to keep growing, and become a well-rounded person, which doesn’t necessarily mean having a prestigious career like engineering. Would like to go back to school to finish up Chemistry and continue learning German. I stick mostly with Western culture because that is what I know, but I have an interest in visiting places without being a tourist. I like to consume good media, art, and hope to contribute to that pool. I see myself more of a poetic spirit, even though I’m not a poet. Little about me, I don’t feel like I’m drifting, but I do go with the flow. It takes a lot of effort to move, to leave a small town. I don’t want to go against the grain, but I want to put effort into my direction, I want to set goals and reach goals.
How did you get into volunteering?
When I was getting away from the straight and narrow engineering career as I was ahead in my school and generally in the top of my class. When I started college, I was already a year and a half ahead. I began broadening my goals as I wanted something else, I wanted to talk to people. I didn’t want to be a rebel. I wanted to be involved with the counterculture, the music, the art. That’s a huge part of it.
Another part was I moved in with my sister. I picked up a worrisome relationship with alcohol during my time living with my sister who was struggling with a substance use disorder. I lost all my scholarship and I had to get out of that situation. It was traumatizing. Left me in a position where I was not able to finish my chemistry degree, I graduated with a degree in German. I knew from that I wanted to explore the opioid crisis as I had this connection to it, a passion. I didn’t want to do it in my home state, especially as I didn’t want to see my family and friends as clientele.
I then learned what capacity building was, and I sought a way to make a difference outside of my state, and that was AmeriCorps.
What do you most enjoy in your free time?
I enjoy consuming art or trying my best to create it, mostly music, guitar specifically, and reading. Another huge interest is I like company, I am passionate about learning about what and who makes up a community, learning the ins and outs.
What advice would you give people considering going into service?
The year is not about you, if you are not used to the stipend that you are given, you will have a rough time. You will need to find ways to entertain yourself that do not involve luxury material things. It is a year about giving and being able to sacrifice your comforts. Be adaptable and make sure you have support systems. Although your service is not about you, make sure there is something that you want to get out of your service for yourself.
It was a way to force myself into a position in which I needed to better or fail, and it worked for me. I wanted to live on the poverty line, and make it work.
If you could visit one place, anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Germany, the Alps. In the air on the mountain. I stopped thinking about places, it’s more about the geography.
What is one item you cannot live without?
Guitar, easy! I purposely made it part of me. I don’t even want to think about now having that around me, it’s part of my identity, it’s a way to express myself, it’s another language to some extent. To not have an instrument to do that with would be akin to missing a limb.
What is your favorite hobby?
Probably guitar/music, I also love relaxing. Just being on a back porch.
What would you like the world to know about you and your work?
I want to spread recognition of the need for food sustainability. I will stand with anyone or any group that will face/tackle climate change. It is happening, my hometown just flooded two weeks ago, which has never happened before.
Tell us about your host site. How do you, as a BHEC member, fit into their vision of supporting communities?
As a BHEC VISTA Leader, my main role is to support our BHEC members serving across Colorado, helping them to navigate the challenges of service and maximize their impact in their served communities. I also help to support our program partnerships, and support the BHEC staff team in organizing and communicating with the full BHEC team. I served my first year of service in Steamboat Springs for Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, before moving to serve THEARI as a BHEC VISTA Leader.
What attracted you most to work with BHEC?
They were dealing with the opioid crisis which was super important to me. It was in Ssteamboat Ssprings, which I didn’t know too much about but I had one friend who lived there from high school, and that was a big bonus for me.
What programs/projects are you currently working on? Please describe.
I’m trying to build our new Criminal Justice Initiative Team, to alleviate the inequities within the criminal justice system in Colorado as it relates to behavioral health inequities. Working to create a well-balanced team that is representative of the diversity of the Colorado criminal justice system.
Working on identifying program partners, helping to build and lead a team of VISTA members to create a cohesive unit that can advance collective goals.
Also in general, aiding with building capacity within the BHEC program as a whole, including member training, program goals, and support.
Highlight a specific project you are currently working on or completed.
I migrated a bunch of data of donor information into one cohesive database for my host organization for my first year of service, helping to build fundraising capacity.
I did IOAD days in Steamboat Springs and Craig, a bunch of non-profits came together which was led by me and my host organization. We wrote in chalk the names of loved ones who experienced an overdose, whether they died or not. We filled a large chunk of the sidewalk and helped to bring the community together in recognition of the severity of the crisis.
What impact do you feel these projects/programs will have on the community?
Will strengthen the network of people who are taking action to improve the criminal justice reform effort in Colorado. This is not a new challenge or effort, but there is a growing emphasis on this work that is beginning to snowball. We are seeing the expanding spiderweb network and the impact will only grow. We are working to remove the silos, facilitating actual action to improve the lived experiences of community members. There is a holistic approach that needs to be taken to support individuals and communities, and the inclusive holistic network will move Colorado closer to that.
What would you like to gain from service at this host site?
I think after this year, I will never have to work in food service again. I want to take these things I have learned back home with me, the ways to build a stronger community. West Virginia does not have the tax revenue to do the things that Colorado is doing. Being able to maximize impact through grassroots organizing and community development. I want to help the communities I came from.
What is the most rewarding aspect/proudest accomplishment of your work/position?
Seeing the Rocky Mountains, the relationships developed with communities and program partners are cool too.