Hearts of Yolo: Maria Elena Martinez

Thursday, Apr 13, 2017

Maria Elena Martinez has a long history of helping people. She’s worked in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years helping families accessMaria Elena resources to improve life situations, and as a counselor for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She currently works as an advocate supervisor at Yolo County CASA and is also a CASA volunteer. “I’d worked with victims of domestic violence for so long and I decided it was time to do something different. I liked the idea of doing something that directly served abused and neglected children.”

Maria Elena has been a CASA volunteer for three CASA children. Her most recent CASA child is 17 years old. “We’ve done a lot of fun things together but above all I’ve worked very hard on getting her to open up little by little. One way we’ve done this is over food. Her favorite is Mexican or Chinese food. One day I told her that we should make a point to try food from all kinds of different countries. She wasn’t sure at first but I kept encouraging her. She loved Afghan food when we tried it and we talked about trying new things and leaving our comfort zone."

Maria Elena continues, "It's a big step forward when children are able to build confidence by try new things. It allows them to gain confidence in their own ability to make good choices, which is a vital life skill that they can apply in the challenging situations they confront as at-risk youth.”

While her current CASA child’s case is going to be closed soon, she hopes to always stay in touch. “I told her that I hope we will always be friends and that I will always be there if she needs someone to talk to. She told me she plans to stay in touch.”

Maria Elena is as passionate about her role as a Yolo County CASA staff member as she is about being a CASA volunteer.  “I feel fortunate to be in touch with so many amazing children and their amazing advocates who want to share their time.” However, she does acknowledge that this type of work can be emotionally trying. “The Yolo County CASA staff is truly like a family. We go through some very intense stuff together. When we hear sad stories, we cry together. When we see good outcomes, we celebrate together. As you can imagine, staff meetings are like no other.”

As for the future, Maria Elena hopes to continue to serve as many children as possible through her role as an advocate supervisor on staff and as a CASA volunteer. “My life experiences have shown me that every child on earth has beautiful gifts to bring forward if their rights are being respected and they receive love and support. That is why we are so motivated to serve every foster child in Yolo County.

Thank you, Maria Elena for the impact you’ve already made at Yolo County CASA.

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