Special son inspires mother to win $1,000 Soroptimist award

2/8/2008 - By: Natalie Savidge

Vicki Martinez is a single mother of a child with special needs, a college student, and a teacher and mentor to less-fortunate infants and toddlers. It’s no wonder the Soroptimist International of the Truckee Meadows will award the 39-year-old the club’s $1,000 Women’s Opportunity Award for 2008 in a ceremony next week.

“I was very surprised that I was picked because I usually do not win things,” said Martinez, a Truckee Meadows Community College student who plans to enroll at the University this fall. She is also a lead teacher with infants and toddlers of low-income/teen/at-risk families for the University’s Early Head Start program.

Her 10-year-old son, Benjamin, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Martinez explained that some consider the syndrome to be a high-functioning autism, with patients exhibiting repetitive behaviors and fixation on certain subjects.

“I think the biggest challenge is not always knowing how to help him be successful in social situations and in school,” she said. “Yes, he is quirky, but that is what makes him special. Those that know Ben adore him and enjoy him thoroughly.”

Martinez applied for the Soroptimist grant by writing two essays, one about her educational and career goals and the other about the obstacles she struggles with daily.

In the course of trying to have Ben diagnosed and finding care to fit his needs, Martinez, beginning in 2000, concluded there is a severe shortage of child psychologists in the local area.

“Ben inspired me to go into the field of early childhood (education) and he inspired me to pursue my education,” Martinez said. “I not only hope to be able to provide for him with less financial struggles, but I feel that I am a model for him.”

She plans to begin studying for her bachelor’s degree at the University in August.

“Ben sees how hard I work to get an education and improve our lives and I think he respects that,” Martinez said. “Someday I will be watching him graduate and I know that I will have played a large role in his successes.”

She also plays a large role in the success and development of other children’s lives in her role as a lead teacher with infants and toddlers of low-income/teen/at-risk families for the University’s Early Head Start program. The Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the University’s College of Health and Human Sciences operates the program.

“Some of the children in our care do not have positive models in their lives and I feel good that I am there to model for them, and to teach them,” she said.

Martinez will receive the local Soroptimist club’s award Feb. 12 at the Lakeside Country Club in south Reno. Her name has been sent for consideration for the regional Women’s Opportunity award, and she could have a chance for a $10,000 national finalist award.

Martinez said that Ben loves to travel and, with the money, wants to go on a trip.

“A big trip is not quite possible yet,” she said. “Maybe a night at the (John Ascuaga’s) Nugget where he can swim and play in the arcade,” Martinez suggested. “The rest will go toward the never-ending pile of bills.”

As for her future plans beyond the potential trip to the Sparks hotel-casino with her son, Martinez would like to be a consultant, but will see where life takes her. “I never thought I would be where I am now, but I am glad that I am.”

Soroptimist, a Philadelphia-based 501(c)(3) organization, created the Women’s Opportunity Award. The program provides cash grants for head-of-household women seeking to improve their lives or upgrade their employment status with the help of additional education and training. Soroptimist annually awards more than $1 million, enabling recipients to offset costs for textbooks, child care and other expenses.


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