Twenty-three-year-old Mara Martinez is an all-around Mikva veteran: she’s served on the Teen Health Council, shared conversations with Rahm Emanuel, and has worked in two aldermanic offices. She’s our Alum of the Month, and sat down with us to chat about her history with Mikva.
Mara, a graduate of Von Steuben High School and a senior at DePaul University, first heard about Mikva in her own home. Her sister, Miriam, also did Mikva programs in high school, and then eventually became staff (Miriam is our Senior Program Manager and Director of the Education Council.) Mara was accepted into a youth council, and said she initially hesitated to join. She admits that “I felt it was awkward to come see her here and then…at home, but I didn’t even have contact with her when I was here because we had different [staff.]”
This was only the first of many surprises Mara has encountered through Mikva. She quickly became immersed in intense research, discussion, and advocacy, and generously shared her newfound political interest with others. “I wasn’t able to vote yet but I was putting input into the change in the city,” she explains. “My friends always ask me, ‘how do I register to vote?’ or how do you feel about this political issue?’ and I can explain to them.” Sometimes, though, the teachable moments are trickier, when she has to deal with constituent complains. “Now that I’m a city worker, I’ve learned that [some] people don’t understand what an alderman is supposed to do.”
One of Mara’s key experiences with Mikva has been working for 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack. She helps maintain Waguespack’s social media accounts, and has organized community events, such as a back-to-school fair. Mara has developed a strong relationship with her boss, and explains that Waguespack “would always ask for my input as a young person. He really likes Mikva for that reason…so that’s really valuable to me.”
Mara credits Mikva for opening doors into politics and leadership. “It it wasn’t for Mikva, I wouldn’t be working for an alderman, and I probably never would have gotten involved in politics. When I was younger, I thought [politics] didn’t affect me, but now that I’m older, working with an alderman, and looking at all these issues that Chicago has, I’m able to see how it’s going to impact the future and young people.”
What’s next for Mara? Upon graduating from DePaul in June with a degree in Communications and Media, she is interested in continuing to work for the city. She may combine her passions for politics and communications to pursue social media work, political writing, or radio. Here at Mikva, we can’t wait to see what she does next!