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From graduation to new employee orientation: Meet Housing Resource Associate Jenny Martinez

January 31, 2024

When clients open the doors to the Springfield Housing Center, a person they are likely to meet is Housing Resource Associate Jenny Martinez, who joined Way Finders in October 2023. 

“My role is speaking with people all day, helping them out, it’s very rewarding. I go back and forth between the front desk and the switchboard, where I take phone calls, return voicemails, and do emails. I like working with people, being personal,” said Martinez, a 2023 graduate of Way Finders’ Self Sufficiency Program (SSP). “It’s only been a little over a month, so every day I learn more. The team is awesome, they’re all great people. Anytime I have questions, they’re more than willing to take the time to teach me.” 

Getting to this point—this administrative role—means a lot to Martinez, who worked for several years previously at Sunshine Dental in Springfield as a dental assistant. When the pandemic hit, it took a hit on her career. 

“You have to work in a patient’s mouth when you’re a dental assistant, and I didn’t feel safe going back to that field so soon after everything reopened. I was afraid of contracting the virus and spreading it to my grandchildren who I spend a lot of time with,” said Martinez, of West Springfield. “Then I was offered a job cleaning and disinfecting buildings, and I decided to do it temporarily because I still needed to make a living. It started off as a part-time job, but before I knew it, I was working 44 hours a week. I stuck it out for about three years, when I realized it was time to move on to something better.”  

She started applying to dentist offices and for receptionist positions. But the call backs weren’t happening. The doors weren’t opening.  

“It was Housing Mobility Program Specialist Sol Pagan who said, ‘There’s an opening at Way Finders that you might want to check out,’” said Martinez. “She knew about my background and told me to apply. She helped me step by step, and luckily, I was hired.” 

Martinez and Pagan first connected in 2014, when Martinez took part in Mass LEAP (Learning, Employment, and Assets Program), a successful state pilot program open to those in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program that has evolved into the Self Sufficiency Program.  

This economic mobility program, which Martinez joined in 2021, helps people grow financially stronger over the course of three years. As a participant’s income and share of rent increase, the program establishes an escrow account and, upon graduation, these funds may be used to pursue homeownership or further education.

Even though Martinez likes to challenge herself and complete everything she starts, it felt different—special—to have someone by her side through the program. 

“Sol has helped and supported me for the last ten years. Her encouragement and motivation have taught me to be the best version of myself and to stay positive whenever things aren’t going well or when I’m feeling down,” said Martinez. “Sol has always reminded me to keep pushing forward and to never forget that when one door closes, another one opens. I have always been thankful for all her advice. Her wisdom and knowledge have had a great impact on my life, and it has been a blessing to have her with me through my journey.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with Jennifer, she has a strong character but inside she is a ball of fluff. Which reminds me so much of myself, because at one time I had that same strong character, until I started meeting good people and breaking down that wall,” said Pagan. “Jennifer works hard and dedicates herself to whatever she puts her heart and mind to do. And look at her now! I’m so happy to see her in an atmosphere and workplace that helps supports growth. I am grateful to Way Finders for giving her the opportunity.” 

Another opportunity through Way Finders that has Martinez excited? A new financial literacy program called STASH, or Saving Towards Affordable Sustainable Homeownership, that’s open to first-generation and first-time homebuyers who earn below 100% of area median income. Those who complete the program and find a suitable home anywhere in Massachusetts are eligible to receive a $20,000 grant, based on availability of funds.  

“I’m starting a class tomorrow, a five-hour virtual first-time homeowner workshop,” said Martinez, who is saving her escrow funds to apply toward a future home purchase. “Taking the leap to homeownership is a little scary. But I’m definitely excited about joining the STASH program. I would love to own a home one day and be able to see that side of things and just know that this is mine, this is my property, my home.” 

Thank you for sharing your story, Jenny Martinez and Sol Pagan!