Martha Martha’s Story      

Originally from Maryland, I have worked as a teacher in the Philippines, as a writer and editor, and as technical support for Michigan Reach Out, managing website, databases, and publications. I traveled quite a bit when younger (nine moves in the seven years my husband was in the U.S. Air Force), but raised our two daughters in Michigan.

While home with my kids for a few years, I was a volunteer: working 20 hours a week in classrooms, starting and running an advocacy group for gifted education, participating in a petition campaign to bring equality to education funding, and building and managing websites for several nonprofit organizations. Although I had enjoyed teaching, my passion for education increased when I had children and became more closely involved in K–12 schooling. I have served as a local school board trustee for more than 20 years.

From that vantage point, I can clearly see the advantages my children had that others do not — and how much harder it is for others to make their way through school and life without the support and resources they deserve. Too many of us have the luxury of being oblivious to the dramatic rise in child poverty over the past decade, but its results are evident in any public school. In disciplinary hearings, we are privy to heartbreaking stories of children doing their best in the face of soul-crushing deprivation and abuse that adults would have difficulty standing up under. How is it that so many children are left to fend for themselves?

I came from a large and happy family and am still close to my eight siblings and their families even though we are spread across the country. My own children are equally close in adulthood despite the hundreds of miles separating them. My appreciation for the crucial role played by family only deepens with age and experience. Our society must do more to support healthy families … and to step in where they do not exist to help struggling children.

I led a fairly charmed life until 2002, when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Over three years, he became more and more physically and cognitively disabled. Brain tumors are particularly cruel, in that you lose the person you knew and loved before their physical loss. I had met him at the age of 15; we had 40 years together in a loving partnership that worked for both of us and produced two terrific children — which is more than many people enjoy.

Like many young Michiganders during this prolonged recession, my daughters have moved far away, although I am able to travel to see them regularly and occasionally take vacations abroad with them. That job (mothering) is essentially done, though, and my energy has flowed back into community-oriented activities. At this stage in my life, with horizons that are no longer unlimited and an up-close look at the ephemeral nature of life, I am all too aware that the opportunity to make a difference and to leave a legacy is finite.