Nic Martinez: Passing on the spirit of service

OCE Community Profile Series
By Graham Bryant ’13 | July 30, 2013

When you think of the qualities and dedication exemplified by William & Mary’s many active citizen service-learners, the image you conjure is inevitably one of someone like Nic Martinez ’14. As president of the College’s Nu Rho chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity and one of the largest community service organizations at William & Mary, Martinez helps coordinate the efforts of around 300 service-minded students dedicated to meeting the needs of Williamsburg and beyond. When not working with APO, the government major and economics minor frequently devotes his time to OCE projects and events, passing along his passion for service learning the College’s next generation of engaged scholars. We sat down with Martinez to talk about his experiences and future plans.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Nic Martinez: Since freshman year I have been on numerous trips with Branch Out Alternative Breaks. They range from going to Nicaragua with Bridges to Community, to driving down to Newport News to work with Habitat for Humanity. This past spring I traveled to Philadelphia to assess homelessness and income inequality. I led the Housing and Healthcare 7 Generations Pre-Orientation trip to the Eastern Shore. Among other things, I have worked locally with the Habitat ReStore and Campus Kitchens. The OCE helps me always stay busy!

OCE: Tell me about your experiences as a 7G co-leader. What were your responsibilities and what trip did you work on? What did you gain from the experience?

NM: One the face of it, the trip was focused on the housing and healthcare situation of migrant workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. But throughout the trip, I realized the issues at hand were interchangeable with any other issue. The real learning experience was facilitating human interaction and compassion. I have been on trips in the past as a participant, but by leading a trip, I was able to pass on the spirit of direct action, service learning, and sustainable social reform. I also get to introduce incoming freshmen to the College, which is always awesome.

OCE: Can you tell me about your involvement in APO and briefly discuss what APO does in the community?

NM: This past fall I became the president of Alpha Phi Omega. One of my favorite aspects of APO is the community that we provide for people to feel more comfortable seeking out direct service. Having a network of friends that one can do service with is key to facilitating action. I remember being a freshman and I had no idea where to go to do community service. APO guides members to the OCE and creates the social pathway to find new resources and opportunities.

OCE: How have these roles contributed to community needs?

NM: The OCE and APO alike both have short term goals: helping those in need with direct action. For example, bringing pre-made meals to low-income community members is a short-term solution. Then there is a middle term goal of learning about the problem at hand and really understanding it. It’s important to realize why the problems exist in the first place, while factoring in many different variables. In the long-run, I hope that students will go on to post-graduate work with these problems and goals in mind, thereby raising their social issue awareness.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

NM: It involves learning about the process of social change. Helping feed others or picking up trash in a campus clean-up project is important. This is the dirty work to social change. It is also very important to know the reasons for excessive littering on campus and how we can alleviate it. Finally, active political and social participation in the future is needed so that we can shape our community and policy in a way that fixes the issues.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

NM: I’m government major with a minor in economics. I enjoy pondering the issues that affect our society and the political discourse that goes along with these issues. Understanding the economics behind social issues is also very important to me.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

NM: I plan on studying further in public administration or public policy. I will always stay politically active and hope to shape the policy in my community.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

NM: I helped people without permanent housing sell a street newspaper in Philadelphia. For the first time in my life I felt invisible and worthless because people walking by on the streets thought I was homeless too and ignored me. It really helped me see things in a new perspective and change my views about the socioeconomic conditions in urban areas.

Graham Bryant

Break Away: the Alternative Breaks Movement

This year Break Away celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Founded at Vanderbilt University, Break Away: the Alternative Break Connection, Inc. is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports the development of quality alternative break programs.  Break Away provides training and information primarily to colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations interested in creating lifelong active citizens through these intensive service-learning programs. Break Away currently has a network of over 100 chapter schools, more than 400 nonprofit partners, and hundreds of individual members worldwide, through which constituents have access to the newest ideas and a broad range of support in the national alternative break movement. Jill Piacitelli, the executive director of Break Away shares some of her thoughts on Break Away’s work and how it has impacted the collegiate experience.

Break Away allows students to find themselves in community. Piacitelli explains, “Everything is about identity at college, I am a Republican, I am a Democrat, I am a soccer player. Break Away has added to the list, I am an Alternative Breaker and ultimately an active citizen.” She elaborates, “There is pride in saying that.” Indeed, Piacitelli shares that, “Break Away is one of the best student led models” as the Alternative Break trips are completely under the wing of the students involved.

As Break Away continues to spread throughout the nation when asked why this movement for better active citizenry has been so successful in reaching out to one hundred and fifty campuses in twenty years, Piacitelli replied that, “there is a real commitment to student leadership.” The executive director explained that there is a tendency for adult staff to look over their shoulder and supervise projects that are meant to be student led and with Break Away students are responsible in leading the Alternative Break trips. She continued, “Students are in full charge of the experience as a whole. Students who are involved attend meetings, study the social issues, the leaders create a budget, plan fundraising, build an education program for the participants, and create relationships with community partners.” By giving students independence in managing the Alternative Break Trips they are given the opportunity to integrate themselves with the community and take personal action to make their Alternative Break trip a time to learn and grow as an active citizen. Piacitelli adds that students are able to “focus on the Active Citizen Continuum as a catalyst experience and create quality Alternative Breaks. This is a powerful alchemy for students as it galvanizes their work as active citizens in the community.”  By leading in the community students find themselves and through this service learning are able to discover their purpose in helping others.

When asked what are her hopes for the future of Break Away, Piacitelli revealed, “to continue to expand” and to build deeper relationships with community partners. Finally, to provide leadership jobs and careers for college graduates who have been active citizens throughout their time in college. Break Away allows students to find their calling through civic participation in the community. By learning about the various social issues and finding one that strikes a chord within, students find their mission in life and how to get involved in order to improve their society. Active citizenship ignites passion and brings out the best in people. It is this energy that allows the Break Away movement to thrive.

by Sagra Alvarado