by Kayla Hunter
Martha is a woman who wears her “Stillers” shirt on gameday and can give anyone directions “dahntahn.” She’ll show you a picture on her cell phone of the buck her daughter recently shot while hunting with her father. At times, Martha, a Family Development Specialist (FDS) at the Latino Family Center, appears and sounds like a typical Pittsburgh yinzer.But over thirty years ago she was a little girl in Honduras, posing in a hot pink dress for a photo that would be sent to American donors. A humanitarian aid organization gave Martha and her classmates better food and clothes, as well as a real link to Americans. She says that while most of her friends received letters from their donor families, Martha never received any. But that was okay; the food more than made up for it. As Martha says, it was “lo mejor;” the best.When Martha was a young woman, she always wanted to shake free from her small pueblo, but she never imagined that opportunity would come in the form of a young American soldier from Pennsylvania. They fell in love, despite hardly being able to understand each other’s languages. She left her family and life in Honduras to come back with him to Pittsburgh.
Martha fumbled with basic English, so she enrolled in an ESL class. It was there that she heard of the Steel Valley Family Center, where she got a job as a child care aide. The family center provided enrolled families with support for the development of the children and the family as a whole. Martha now had a little girl, so she enrolled there and began attending events and play groups. The staff at the center helped her get her GED, citizenship, and driver’s license.
After Martha had her second child, she enrolled as an intensive family so she could receive home visits to evaluate the development of her son. Martha’s FDS referred her to an early intervention program when she noticed his hands fluttering when he played with developmental toys. Soon thereafter, Martha expressed concern for the way her son was walking, and her FDS coordinated an appointment with a pediatrician. After some lengthy tests, he was diagnosed with Leukemia.
For the next three and a half years, Martha’s son received treatment for Leukemia, and the Steel Valley Family Center supported her through it all. He turned five and finally entered remission. After returning as a need-based employee at the family center, Martha caught wind of an opening for an FDS at the Latino Family Center. She got the job, and now spends her days helping young non-English speaking Hispanic mothers, often in tough situations, much like she was all those years ago.