Skip to content

Staff Spotlight: Madeline Martinez, employment specialist

There are people who love to help others. And then there are people who know how to help: When to push, when to pull. When to counsel, when to listen. When to be patient, when to scream whisper. Employment Specialist Madeline Martinez, who marked her 10-year anniversary with Way Finders in November 2021, is both.

“I love helping my clients, I love to see their faces when you help them,” says Madeline, a resident and native of Springfield. “Sometimes you just gotta have people on your side to get it done.”

On June 1, 2011, Madeline was working at the New England Farm Worker’s Council when a tornado brought extensive damage to Springfield, leaving hundreds of families homeless. At the MassMutual Center, which opened a temporary shelter, Madeline met Peter Gagliardi, former president and CEO of Way Finders, and other staff responding to the crisis.

“I just got curious and applied,” Madeline says, of how she landed her temporary accommodation job. “Then I worked in the shelters. I’ve held five or six different roles—program specialist, stabilization caseworker. I have all my business cards at home!”

When she stepped into her current role in 2013, Employment Support Services (ESS) was brand new. “At first it was just me. Peter’s vision with this pilot program was to take the employment piece off the shelter workers’ plate. Then we partnered with MassHire in Holyoke, that’s where we sent clients. I’d go over weekly to check in and make sure everything was flowing.”

Though the department’s aim has remained constant over time—help eligible clients get and stay employed—how it works has evolved. “Today we have a lot more funding. We have more staff, more clients, more contracts. We’re no longer with MassHire, we do it all in house. We have our own job developers, we do our own cohorts with clients through the Work Readiness Certificate Program.”

To help clients—largely those who have experienced homelessness—enter and move up in the workforce, ESS runs three programs: Secure Jobs Initiative, Competitive Integrated Employment Services, and SNAP Employment & Training. Madeline helps clients understand what they may be eligible for and how long they can access counseling and support, which may include funds to cover language classes, bus passes, uniforms, and state licensing exams, among other barriers.

As Madeline speaks, she does so through the sharp lens of an employment expert—casually interjecting the starting hourly wage of area employers, the first names of contacts at training programs, the number of buses it takes to get from Indian Orchard to Holyoke. She educates clients on all pieces of the employment puzzle—from an ID (“You can’t get a job without one, so we help you with that first”) and writing a resume and cover letter to how to dress and prepare for interviews.

A typical day for Madeline, whose portfolio of clients has at times approached 80? “It depends, a day is never the same. I could easily start here at 1780, as I do twice a week, doing my intakes here, seeing clients every hour, entering them into the system. Every day it’s calls, meetings, questions—lately a lot of questions from housing navigators, to see if people qualify, and if they do I bring them in.”

When obstacles pop up, Madeline hurdles them alongside her clients—details she shares in passing, with little fanfare. She’s bought supplies (“diapers, wipes, Pedialyte at Walmart”) and delivered them to a client with a sick, crying baby. She’s helped a client study over Zoom (“She has learning disabilities, but she passed the CNA test”). She’s met up at urgent care at 6:30 a.m. to be first in line (“They open at 8:00 a.m.”) to resolve vaccination issues for a client newly arrived from Puerto Rico.

If she could have any superpower, it would be to read minds. But in hearing her describe interactions with clients, she may already have the power of clairvoyance: starting with the intake step, she often has a clear vision of what a successful path will be for a client.

“‘OK, so you want to do this? We can follow this path because it’s ultimately what you want. But I think you’d be great if I hook you up with these training people,’” Madeline says, of her balancing patience with persuasion. “As time goes by, I’ll say, ‘I know you want to pursue this, but you haven’t done anything with it yet. Let’s try my way. Let’s just try it. It doesn’t hurt!’”

Madeline, who describes herself as quiet in meetings (“But I’m listening and writing down everything you’re saying, trust me”), is animated in other settings. Such as when given the chance to attend trainings (“I love them, I volunteer for them!”) or vouch for a client: “If they need a reference and a job calls me, I’m like ‘Emily is AWESOME!’”

In her down time, Madeline, who has two grown children and a grandchild, heads to her camper at Prospect Mountain in Granville. “I like to be in my own element, just me, my dog, and my boyfriend. We’re so nonchalant over there, like I don’t even care if the phones work. It’s like, who cares?”

Thank you for the care you show your clients every day, Madeline!