Transportation director Olga Martinez learned from a tragedy early on in her career that working at EL ARCA means more than just doing a job – it means being there in times of crisis for participants with special needs. When a participant who lost her mother to cancer became despondent, Olga learned that the young woman had depended on her mother for just about everything, including rides to EL ARCA. Olga stepped in to help fill the void.
“She was depressed for two years, and I just tried to make her happy,” Olga reveals.” And I know that the weekends were really bad. She would be really sad on Friday, when she knew she wouldn’t be coming back to EL ARCA two days. I kind of felt that I took on the role of her mother.”
Invited to volunteer by a high school friend, Olga says she fell in love with EL ARCA and its participants on her very first day. “You’re in high school, you want to be cool,” she says. “But you came to EL ARCA, and you were at peace. You wanted to help the participants out in any way possible.”
After graduation, Olga took a job at EL ARCA as a program aide. She went on to become a folklorico dance instructor – and once she received her Class B license – the person who transported the participants to dance performances around Los Angeles. She also drove the participants to museums, parks, gardens and more to give them an understanding of the opportunities open to them.
Olga now coordinates the transit needs of 250 participants, all of whom have come to rely on the shuttle system to get them to and from the activities they enjoy.
“I want parents to know that once their children leave their home, EL ARCA can be a home for them,” Olga explains. “I know that some parents are anxious and scared once their children leave their sight, and I want them to know that EL ARCA can be the place for them. We care about their child.”
Working at EL ARCA is more than just a job for Olga. “Being here for 21 years, I’ve had more ups than downs,” she says. “I feel like it’s become my second home as well.”
- Olga Martinez