When Sherry Martinez was diagnosed with leukemia in 1999, she felt that her life as she knew it was over and began searching for answers.
During that search, the Leilehua grad found a newly opened church in Kahuku. She made a deal with God: “Heal me, and I will serve you all the days of my life.” A few weeks later her doctor reported her blood counts had leveled off. Her cancer was in remission.
One year later Martinez kept her promise and began the Hopeful Hearts and Giving Hands Food Pantry, where she would serve food to 35 people out of a Matson container. When the holidays rolled around, Martinez and her family invited those who were houseless into their home for Thanksgiving.
From there, the pantry expanded to where the Martinezes were distributing clothing and household goods to the homeless in Hauula and other parks in the North Shore area. They would also “adopt” one person at a time into their home.
“The goal was to teach them to navigate through complex social services and speak up for themselves,” Martinez says. “We wanted to help them to be productive citizens and avoid becoming another statistic.”
Two years ago Martinez attended a conference on helping people who are struggling with addiction. She quickly saw an opportunity to expand her efforts even more.
Now she is not just feeding the bellies of the at-risk, she is feeding their minds.
Martinez and a handful of volunteers began the nonprofit Access to Recovery (ATR) project out of her dining room. Earlier this year ATR received funding to attain an office trailer at the Kahuku Sugar Mill property, and Hope Chapel Kahuku also has been a “portable church” for the project, holding Sunday morning services at the community center.
Martinez adds that they have partnered with other service organizations, “to bring to Kahuku other desperately needed services, such as parenting classes, mental-health counseling, health and wellness programs, Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center services and many more.”
So far, ATR has served more than 2,800 individuals who are fighting addiction and hopelessness. As of Oct. 13, the program has an outstanding 94 percent success rate for clients clean and sober at six months. Forty-three percent of clients also gain employment or enroll in school, and 95 percent report an overall improved well-being. For more information, call 692-7619 or visit http://hawaii.gov/health/substance-abuse/ATR/.
“Our goal,” Martinez says, “is to take them under our wing and, through ATR, teach them how to get back up, to stand on their own and to reclaim their lives.”
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