Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
When she was a young child growing up in Albuquerque, Mary Martinez’s earliest jobs often involved helping her elderly neighbors any way she could.
Not much has changed in the decades since.
While she is no longer raking leaves or cleaning up sidewalks for pocket change, Martinez, owner of the Albuquerque location of Home Instead Senior Care and founder of the Isabel Gallegos Center for Aging, still dedicates her time to caring for seniors.
“I’ve done what I love my whole life,” she said. “Even as a little kid. I’ve always loved helping seniors.”
Martinez plans to bring that same level of dedication to the Hispano Chamber of Commerce as the organization’s 2020 chairwoman.
She officially took over as chair Nov. 15, and since then already has begun to inspire fellow board members and employees, according to Ernie C’de Baca, the chamber’s president and CEO.
“She really wants to be efficient and engage them (the board) in a way that makes us the kind of chamber that we want to aspire to be,” C’de Baca said.
As a leader, Martinez describes herself as deeply involved and wanting to see a project through from beginning to end.
“I’m a hands-on kind of person,” she said. “I want to see the energy. I want to see people working together and see those things come to fruition.”
Martinez said she grew up watching both her grandmothers work to help their communities. She remembers one grandmother taking in people off the streets to give them a meal or a warm place to stay for the night.
Her grandmothers also gave Martinez her first exposure to the lack of services available to aging adults, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease. When one of her grandmothers was first diagnosed with the condition, very little was know about the disease or how to treat it.
“There was a huge lack of services back then, and as I learned more about it, I wanted to know more about it – what else is out there,” Martinez said. “… People would say you were ‘demented’ and ‘dementia’ was a big word and people were scared of that word.”
Martinez went on to earn a degree in gerontology and sociology from New Mexico State University. In her first job after graduating, Martinez worked for the state government as a case manager in Doña Ana County with 300 senior clients spread across the county’s 3,814 square miles.
“You learn people really know how to be scrappers,” Martinez said of the experience. “… I learned from a lot of those folks how to be a scrapper and help put together systems to help people in very remote areas.”
Martinez quickly learned if she wanted to be successful, she had to create a net of support systems beyond her own department.
“I ended up creating this little army of people that work together to make sure that the seniors could stay home and be safe,” she said.
When Martinez made her way to Home Instead in the early 2000s, she created that network again.
“Bringing all those people together and all those systems together helped a lot of people, one at a time,” she said.
As the owner of the Albuquerque franchise, Martinez said she still works with multiple agencies – including competitors – when managing the care of seniors.
“We cooperate with each other and we refer out to other agencies that might also need to be involved,” she said. “… It takes a village to raise a child, it takes that same village to help somebody age in place.”
Focus on business growth, education
Martinez said the board first invited her to join seven years ago due to her involvement in the state across both public and private sectors.
In her new role as chamber chair, Martinez said she is focusing on two key goals: promotion of small businesses and education.
“My big thing for them is to really promote more … what they do for small businesses and education in our community,” she said. “Those are big things that they do, but I don’t think we promote them enough.”
As the largest Hispanic chamber of commerce in the country, in a state where nearly 50% of the residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, Martinez sees a huge opportunity to promote the chamber’s work and help business leaders become more aware of the benefits it can provide.
“I don’t think enough people in the community know exactly what the chamber does,” she said. “… They actually do things out in the community in a meaningful way.”
Beyond networking opportunities, Martinez said the chamber plays essential roles in both helping small business owners get their enterprise going and helping existing businesses expand.
Like her most recent predecessors, Martinez is stepping into the chair position at a time when chamber membership numbers are stagnating. The Hispano chamber’s membership has hovered around 1,200 for the past several years, according to Annette Pitera, the organization’s executive assistant.
This year, membership is down to 1,071 members, according to the chamber’s website.
Martinez hopes those numbers grow in the next year, but said she ultimately will measure success on business growth rather than membership numbers.
“The success for the year is if we had more businesses start this year than last year,” she said.
As far as education, Martinez said she hopes to encourage growth of the chamber’s scholarship program, and wants to work on encouraging graduates to stay in New Mexico.
In the past 32 years, the chamber has awarded $2.3 million in scholarship funds to 2,600 students, according to Pitera. Scholarships average around $1,000.
“We want them to keep their gifts here,” Martinez said.
C’de Baca said Martinez has already had success as the board’s chair. Under her leadership, the chamber’s annual gala has almost sold out.
C’de Baca also credited Martinez as “instrumental” in bringing the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Convention to Albuquerque last year.
“She’s a tremendous inspiration for the community,” he said.