You could say that Andrea Martinez’s career started in elementary school serving up nachos at school’s snack store. Working alongside her mother, who was in the parent-teacher association, Martinez said she got used to volunteering being a way of life. She frequently tagged along with her mother and sisters to volunteer opportunities for the United Way, where her mother worked, and saw first-hand how her mom lent a hand to anyone who needed it.
Born and raised in Vegas, Martinez’s nonprofit career has taken her from Three Square to Just One Project and personal volunteer opportunities with the Junior League of Las Vegas.
Now as the coordinator for the Pathways program at the MGM Public Policy Institute located at the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, Martinez is a resource for young adults who have experienced the foster care system. Martinez, ‘18 MA Urban Leadership, began in her UNLV role in September 2021.
If you need a jump start at finding a place to volunteer, Martinez will likely give you her phone number. She may even take you to the location and volunteer with you.
How has your bachelor’s degree in psychology helped you in your career?
I was a psych major at Nevada State College and was and still am fascinated by the brain and factors that motivate people to make decisions or act certain ways and the idea of how impactful your environment can be. You have to be willing and open to understand people in order to serve them in a way that best fits their needs.
In my head, (my career path) wasn't a linear path but it was all connected, even with plenty of curveballs and loops. I did an internship at a substance recovery treatment center and after the internship worked in that space for a bit before transitioning to nonprofits. Before the transition I was very regularly volunteering, so I started to learn about so many great organizations in the community.
What was your first job in a nonprofit organization?
When I joined the team at Three Square, it was my first official job in the nonprofit sector, but I absolutely fell in love, not only with the fact that I was working with the community and working to end childhood hunger, but because I was getting to work alongside such innovative and passionate individuals. It really made me feel like collectively we really were changing the landscape to create a hunger-free community.
Who inspired you to get into your field?
My mom is the biggest inspiration. She’s definitely my biggest motivator as to why I do a lot of things. She instilled in (me and my sisters) really young the importance of being there for other people no matter what the situation. Being a resource, being someone's support — she put in our heads that it's easy to do, so do it.
What made you interested in your field of work?
I entered the nonprofit space because I had always wanted a career that allowed me to have a direct impact to serve others; I really wanted to become ingrained in the culture of our community. I wanted an opportunity to learn about resources that were available that would ease the lives of others. When I was growing up and as I navigated my college journey, I wasn't really sure how to make that happen or what jobs were options to do that, so I tried to volunteer as much as I could to get my foot in the door.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to start volunteering?
It’s a lot easier than it seems. It can be intimidating especially if you want to start and you don’t know where to begin. Take the first step. Just do it. Seek out a cause that's important to you. There are so many amazing organizations serving unique niche areas.
Use this volunteer and community service opportunity to use your skills and your knowledge to support another group. Or find an outlet to refine your skills.
Everywhere could use support now. Giving back doesn’t always have to be in terms of financial support. Time is more valuable. More often than not, most organizations are willing to work around your schedule and they want to make an experience for their volunteers. Use your passion and talents to help other people. Vegas is a big little city. There are so many connections, if you push yourself to get involved or seek opportunities.
A 2020 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that volunteering is good for one’s health. Is that the case for you?
When I volunteer, I feel like I got to do something for a little that made the craziness of the world quiet for a bit. That does so much for your mental health. Everyone wants to do this because they care. It’s ok to feel good afterwards. Helping others impacts you. It feels amazing to walk away from that. It’s ok, to let it do something for you. It empowers you to be connected. And everyone has something to offer. It can take an emotional toll to see people's challenges, but again, it’s about giving someone else that chance to breathe and make life a little easy for someone else, and it’s so worth it.
It’s never too early to start. It’s never too early to see the impact you can have. Kids can come with you to volunteer. It goes back to the concept of how one small act of kindness really can change the world. Never underestimate the power to make a difference. Be empowered by that.