#CareerTalk with Alysyn Martinez, Healthy Food Access Manager at First Community Housing

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Born in San Francisco and raised in the South Bay, Alysyn Martinez is bi-racial, born from a Filipino-immigrant and Italian-American, and raised by a single mother and older sister. She’s a first-generation college graduate from San Jose State University with a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance, and a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). She currently works as a Healthy Food Access Manager for a nonprofit that offers affordable housing in downtown San Jose. She’s also been accepted into law school and will begin pursuing her JD in fall 2020.

This is her story.

Coming from a low-income household, my primary motivations for finishing college and landing a job were focused on making enough money to provide for my family and move away from financial strain. I decided to study Finance because I thought it would give me the best chance at achieving that financial independence. Although my coursework came to me fairly easily, it was never something I felt passionate about.


Discovering My Passion

I transferred to SJSU from a community college in the fall of 2016. Looking back at this time, it was a very transformational period in my life. The political landscape leading up to the 2016 election had ignited in me a passion for addressing and understanding issues around women’s equality. I was also working part-time for a graduate admissions office at a local university. Although I appreciated my work and learned a lot from the experience, I realized I have a deeper passion for serving individuals that more closely reflect my own community. 

Both experiences helped me realize I needed to shift to a new path that could address my passions. I used my remaining time at SJSU to explore these by adding a minor in WGSS. I found a love for addressing social justice in studying these topics and finished my final semesters dedicating my job search to landing a career in social justice work.


The Job Search

After graduation, I hoped to find a full-time position that focused on issues that are important to me. I spent a few months applying and interviewing for jobs at nonprofits and government agencies without much luck. I expanded my search beyond full-time paid positions and found an AmeriCorps program called Public Allies. 

It was a 10-month program that required completing 1,700 hours of community service. Hours were served in part through an internship at a local nonprofit and training on social justice topics. Although it looked different from a traditional “job,” it turned out to be an extremely rewarding experience and was exactly what I needed at the time. 

I interned as a Sustainable Communities Coordinator and was hired on with my host agency after my term of service. I now work as a full-time employee serving as a Healthy Food Access Manager. As a Healthy Food Access Manager at First Community Housing, the day-to-day responsibilities of my position vary widely. My time is partially dedicated to analyzing food security data I receive from surveying our housing sites. I use this information to form partnerships with other local nonprofits to fill these food needs. Other days, I spend time out at the properties either working in the community gardens or hosting healthy eating classes for residents. Overall, I have a lot of autonomy in deciding how my days look.

This term of service made me realize that I have a really strong pull to address systemic inequalities more broadly. This was the impetus for my next career move into law school to study public interest and civil rights law. 


My Braven Experience

I first heard about Braven from a childhood friend who had previously gone through the program. It has been a huge contributor to the successes I’ve gained throughout my career journey. 

I completed the accelerator course in the second semester of my junior year at SJSU. Braven gave me the tools to picture what my future path in social justice might look like. When I completed my Ten-Year Road Map project, I originally designed it while picturing what a future career in finance would look like. It helped me realize that I needed to shift my path. I redesigned my project looking at a career in nonprofit work instead and have followed that path pretty closely.

Additionally, Braven provided me the necessary skills for working successfully on a collaborative team. I am the type of person that tends to prefer working alone–I’ve never enjoyed group projects. However, cultivating a relationship with my cohort and learning how to work effectively on a team taught me to appreciate the process of collaboration and sharing responsibility. Those skills helped me find success in my AmeriCorps program and in my current work environment.


Appreciating the Process

The first few months of job applications and rejection letters felt like a failure, especially when I saw other students I graduated with successfully landing jobs straight out of school. It was really difficult for me to not compare myself. 

When I started my role with Public Allies, it was much less money and comparably felt like it wasn’t a “real” job, contributing to that idea of failure. After a few months in the program, I started to realize I was exactly where I needed to be and the concept of what a “real” job is had only existed based on what other people were doing. Everyone’s experience is different; there isn’t just one way to start a career

Once I learned to stop comparing my situation to others’, it relieved so much pressure and helped me find more patience within myself. I could actually appreciate the process of discovering what I wanted to be versus worrying about what I “should” be. Had I not taken that time, I wouldn’t be in my current role and I likely wouldn’t be going to law school.


A Strong Support System

In my career, education, and personal life, I have been extremely fortunate in finding supportive and encouraging female mentors. Among the most influential have been my past and present supervisors, my WGSS professor, and my closest family and friends. 

Navigating the world as not only a woman but a woman of color poses a unique set of challenges. For me, this includes learning to examine and unlearn a lot of ideas about what the limits are on my success. Having a really strong support system of women that have had similar experiences has given me the perspective to move past these limitations to achieve much more than I had ever imagined for myself.

The best advice I have ever received is a reminder to step into my power:

“It will be seldom that someone will make room for you at the table. No one is going to give you permission to fight your own battle and no one will take on your battle for you. While we sit in our fear, others are grasping power around you. If you think you can wait to be invited into the conversation, you never will be.”


My Advice to You

Comparison is one of the most harmful things you can do for your personal growth. Every path looks different and moves at different paces. Give yourself the space to reflect and discover what you really hope to accomplish and allow yourself flexibility in discovering how to get there.


Learn more about Alysyn Martinez