Santa Fe resident Elena Martinez, 54, loves math. In fact, the only thing she likes better than math is tutoring her grandchildren and their friends in the subject. “They just couldn’t get it, so I taught them the way I was taught all those years ago,” she says. “I wanted them to see how easy and fun math can be – like doing a big puzzle and getting it right every time.”
Two years ago, after years of working in the restaurant world, Elena decided it was time for her to try something new. She had just been granted custody of her two granddaughters – then 9 and 10 – when their mother, a meth addict, could no longer care for them. Restaurant hours, which usually involve nights and weekends, didn’t work with two little girls at home. But without any college, Elena couldn’t find a job that paid well enough to support the three of them.
She added it all up, and the only result she got was “go to school.” She enrolled in Santa Fe Community College, where she’s been a part-time dean’s list student ever since. She made ends meet by using her considerable cooking skills to cater, and by using all the financial aid she could find.
Last winter, one of her granddaughter’s teachers, impressed by the great job Elena was doing tutoring math and volunteering in the classroom along with returning to school, suggested she apply for an AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship. The scholarship is given to women age 40-plus who are high in talent but low in resources, so they can get the training or education they need for a better financial future.
“I apply for every scholarship I can, but the application for AARP Foundation’s scholarship was the hardest ever,” she says. “It took me two weeks to fill out, but when it was done I realized it was a lesson in itself. I learned a whole lot about myself.”
Those two weeks paid off for Elena. This spring, she got a letter from AARP Foundation congratulating her for winning the maximum Women’s Scholarship – $5,000. “I was so amazed and happy to learn about the scholarship, and so was my school. It was the biggest scholarship anyone has ever won there,” she says.
The scholarship means that Elena can accelerate her studies and go to school full time for the next two years. She will receive her associate’s degree in business administration in 2013, and then transfer to another college where she’ll study for her accounting degree.
“Right now, I’m thinking I’m going to open my own place or run someone else’s when I graduate,” she says, “but I haven’t given up on the idea of being a math teacher in high school, either. I know one thing for sure – whether I’m paid or not, I’m always going to tutor kids in math on the side – it’s just way too much fun to stop.”