Leading Towards the Future: Yarley Martinez

Yarley Martinez '17 sits in front of a computer in CILSA.When Yarley Martinez ’17 enrolled at Saint Mary’s, she was nervous. A first-generation student from Los Angeles, she didn’t know anyone in the Bay Area and, truth be told, she was homesick.

“I was, like, ‘I don’t think I made the right choice. I want to go home.’”

Four years later, she’s graduating with a BA in economics, a minor in ethnic studies, and the leadership skills to pursue her dream: working with underserved communities.

Raised by a low-income, single mom who’d immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico in her early 20s, Martinez was influenced by her two older brothers—Christian Martinez ’12 and Roberto Martinez—both of whom graduated from Lasallian universities.

Identified by Saint Mary’s as a High Potential (HP) student, she soon met the challenge, becoming a lead peer mentor in the HP Program, a resident adviser her sophomore and junior years, and a women’s rugby player for three years. This year, she joined CILSA as a social action leadership team member, mentoring nine students in leadership, social justice, faith, and community service.

Through it all, her guiding light has been her mother, whose work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society influenced her own service to the immigrant community through work with that organization.

“She’s a huge influence,” said Martinez. “The effort I put in, I always think of her. Telling her about my successes and also my failures, she’s just been through the whole thing.”

Martinez’s leadership in organizing bi-weekly service trips to White Pony Express food bank in Pleasant Hill has inspired the first-year students in her charge. “She’s provided the students with a jump start to a career in leadership for social change,” says CILSA Director Jennifer Pigza.

But for Martinez, the jump start came from Saint Mary’s. “Without such a great education, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The professors, the support of my friends and the support of my mentors [have all] been here to guide me.”