When Jennifer Martinez graduated from high school her dream was to become a civil engineer and build houses. Extremely bright, Jennifer started City College at 16 with that goal, but life had different plans. The daughter of an immigrant mother from the Dominican Republic, money was tight, and Jennifer dropped out of school to get a job. Along the way, she had her daughter, Laysha, and her dream of an education seemed further away.
“I started City College in 2003 but I couldn’t afford college at that time,’’ she said. I dropped out for six years.’’
In 2009, Jennifer decided that it was time to get serious and come up with a realistic plan. I knew I was now a mother, and wouldn’t be able to pursue my education in a straight line, so I started in stages.’’
She applied for financial aid, enrolled at John Jay College and earned an associates’ degree followed by a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology. But the road kept leading Jennifer back to housing.
“Somehow it always ended in the housing field,’’ she said. “I worked for a homeless shelter in New York City serving a variety and diversity of families and was able to assist many of them in achieving permanent housing. From educational training, job readiness, access to healthcare, -you name it- I was there to help with anything needed to achieve and maintain permanent housing.”
She then worked for Family Services Society of Yonkers, first as a guardianship care manager coordinating services for families with disabilities and then as a ROSS (Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency) Coordinator providing services to MHACY residents, all while continuing her education.
Jennifer says she has always been driven and resourceful, traits she said she learned from her mother.
“She was a great role model. She knew everyone and always had this person or that person who could get things done,’’ she said.
Her studious nature comes from her father, she said. “My father was the books guy,’’ she said. “My homework was to read the newspaper. Everyday he would bring me a newspaper and test me on what I read.’’ It’s paid off for Jennifer, who has earned a slew of awards and academic honors.
Jennifer came to live in the United States when she was 14, joining her mother who moved here for more opportunity. Her dad remains in the Dominican Republic.
Jennifer said she finally feels that she has accomplished enough to take a breath, although she has many goals yet to achieve. She started working for MHACY in 2018 as Housing Supervisor/director of relocation services helping 1,600 families during renovations and in 2019 she earned a master’s degree in public policy and administration. She and Laysha, 13, have just moved into a new home.
She’s also just completed a special project for MHACY, a series of videos that will take residents step by step through the process of applying for housing. The new videos can be found on the MHACY website at MHACY.org.
“I take pride in all these projects that I work on,’’ she said. “At the end of the day, what I and my colleagues do is having a daily impact on families. It is very rewarding to be a part of MHACY’s mission to preserve affordable housing.”