HOLYOKE When 17-year-old Crystal Lee Martinez, a mother of two young children, relocated to Holyoke from New York City two months ago, she wasn't sure exactly where to go or who to turn to.
Although reluctant about continuing her education, Martinez decided to give The Care Center an alternative education center for pregnant or parenting teens a chance.
Now, Martinez is not only enjoying her experience at The Care Center, but said the organization has helped her get her life back on track as she looks to attend college and pursue a career in nursing or teaching some time in the near future.
"I didn't like the idea of going back to school, but being here has changed my mind," Martinez said.
She explained that the classes at The Care Center are "fun," and that she has learned a great deal.
"I didn't really like math before, but now I'm starting to understand more things, and I think I'm beginning to like it," she said.
Most importantly, she said, is that she is "learning how to become a more responsible mother."
It is knowing that there are many young women like Martinez in her hometown community, working to improve their lives with the help of The Care Center, that inspired Amy Jamrog, a financial representative from Northwestern Mutual to volunteer her time and effort for the organization over the past two years.
Last Wednesday, Jamrog's was recognized as an "outstanding volunteer," in Northwestern Mutual's national Community Service Ward (CSA) program during a press conference at The Care Center.
Jamrog, who grew up in Chicopee and spent ten years living in Holyoke, was recognized for her efforts in helping to organize large-scale benefit dinners that have raised $200,000 in funds for the alternative education center.
"Being involved in The Care Center is a way to address the needs in my hometown community," Jamrog said.
In addition to the recognition, Jamrog was given a $10,000 grant from Northwestern Mutual's CSA program, which she presented to The Care Center during the press conference.
Jamrog explained that two years ago, when she was first approached by Laurie Herrick, development director at The Care Center, to help organize a fund-raising event for the organization, she knew "this was something that I wanted to be a part of."
"I looked at this as not just as an investment in these great young women, but as an investment in helping to nurture the future great leaders," she said, adding that it helps to positively impact the children of these future leaders.
"It's affecting future generations, which to me, is a great, solid investment," she said.
Jamrog said that after she agreed to offer her assistance to The Care Center, she went full force ahead in helping to organize and draw attendance to the fund-raising dinners, both of which took place in May at the Log Cabin and generated an estimated $100,000 in donations.
Addressing the large group of Care Center students that attended the press conference, Jamrog said she is "so impressed" that the young women attending The Care Center are able to successfully juggle being a mom and attending school.
"I am amazed by the work that you do here," she said. "I am so excited and thrilled to be a part of all of this."
Jamrog said that she is eager to continue her volunteer efforts with The Care Center, and is looking at options such as having a representative from Northwestern Mutual teach a financial planning course at The Care Center, as well as creating a donors circle to create a steady influx of donations.
Mayor Michael Sullivan, who attended the press conference, said "It is incredible how much this organization does with such little resources."
He also thanked Northwestern Mutual for their commitment to the community.
William Messner, president of Holyoke Community College (HCC) also attended the press conference to congratulate the Care Center's students for their hard work and to comment on HCC's connection to the organization.
He explained that HCC has "a couple dozen," students in residence that made the move from The Care Center to the college.
"I am immensely impressed by the quality of work done here, by the faculty and staff, and most importantly, the students," Messner said.
According to Anne Teschner, executive director of The Care Center, helping students to make this jump from The Care Center to college is emerging as one of the main priorities of the organization.
Although the $10,000 grant from Northwestern Mutual will help to support the program in many ways, Teschner said the grant will help the Care Center to focus on helping students to make a more seamless transition from the organization to higher education.
She said this has become increasingly important to The Care Center, because an estimated 85 percent of Care Center students receive their General Educational Development (GED) and go on to attend college.
"We want to be able to increase preparation for college and support this transition more," Teschner said.
She said that continuing to support The Care Center students after they make the move to college is especially important.
"A lot of these girls don't have family members who have gone to college," she said, explaining that The Care Center wants to help the students overcome any obstacles they may encounter when they first begin their college courses.
"Whether it's simple logistical things or arranging transportation, we want to do everything possible to make sure they make the transition well," she said.
According to Teschner, more than 140 pregnant and parenting teens utilize The Care Center, which is located on Cabot Street. The organization provides academic classes in preparation for the GED, on-site day care, counseling and case management, nutritious food, door-to-door transportation and assistance in transitioning to employment or higher education.
For more information, contact Teschner at (413) 532-2900.