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Growing Comfortable with Vulnerability

Saul Martinez served with Good Shepherd Volunteers from 2006-2007 and worked at the Barbara Blum Non-Secure Detention Center. Currently, Saul works at the Summit Residential School in Nyack, New York, where he continues to mentor youth through Martin De Porres Youth and Family Services. He is the proud father of three children—Isabella, Gael and Luciano—proudly raising them Dutch, Salvadoran/American. 

23 years ago I first consciously engaged with the words Social Justice, and while I cannot put my finger on when or how this process started--it has been woven into my life on a regular basis. I am not sure if there have been seasons in which I have been more engaged with social justice, or less engaged but I can recall pivotal moments in my life in which I felt empowered to help the community I inhabit.


This year I reached 40 years of age and for the first time in my life I took the opportunity to take stock in the direction my life has taken due the influences of the work I engage in, mainly social service. Everything else I do, photography, wood working, cycling--all seem to be complimentary of this overarching mission--social justice. It's important to note that the Tenet of Social justice and how I apply it in my life has changed significantly.


When I first entered my post high school experience in college I used to think of social justice as simply getting the opportunity to step up to the plate and take a swing. Or showing up to a community garden and helping someone tidy up their space when they could not do it themselves.  I even tried to emulate that in my engagements with communities, or children I used to work with and found that not much changed. What I was doing, I believe, were generally single acts of service


I have come to experience Social Justice through its root components of Social (Engagement) and Justice (fairness, equity, and a supported opportunity)--accompaniment. As a social worker it is no longer enough to engage the people I work with in just sessions, but to remain consistent in their lives in order to give this phrase maximum life and effect. By becoming a predictable and reliable presence in the lives of clients, youth or other people I work with, I am engaging in the work of social justice. 


"Love and justice bind us to each other and to the whole mission." St. Mary Euphrasia


When I graduated from College a close friend and professor of mine, Br. Michael Avila, asked me after I shared I had no plans post college--why don't you join the Lasallian Volunteers? The was my first introduction into social service as a vocation and my ongoing life's work. After realizing I had no business leading a class of 24 sixth graders as a Lasallian Educator, I pursued an opportunity in New York with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. This is where I learned that social justice teaches you to take a hit to the chin and get back up.


Working at Barbara Blum was a major education and a humbling experience. I learned about my own fear of being vulnerable and also realized that in this space is where I could be most effective. Even though my experience with Good Shepherd Volunteers was only for one year, the cumulative effects of this experience led me to decide to stay in New York and engage youth and families in long term service. Watching young men "graduate" from our group home programs and go on and start families and live productive lives is the embodiment of social justice. 


While my role has shifted and I now work in a school, I continue to work with young students searching for meaning in their everyday lives. I continue to engage in the opportunity to serve them by being a listening ear and a cheerleader for their life’s goals. In my personal life I enjoy serving my neighbors, friends and family in ways that help them gain confidence to take on projects they would otherwise not attempt. 


I continue to learn about the meaning of social justice--but the main take away I carry with me is that in order to grow I need to be comfortable with vulnerability. This continues to be the most difficult aspect of social justice that I grapple with, but I remain grateful in exploring social justice with a group of people such as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, former volunteer roommates and board members to help me along.


- Saul Martinez

GSV 2006-2007


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