EEDC: Tell me about Talbot Mentors?
Gerson Martinez (GM): Talbot Mentors is a nonprofit organization that’s focused on serving our young people and their families, primarily through the concept of mentorship. We are a 24-year-old organization. Today, we operate two programs. The first is a legacy one-to-one mentoring program. The other is Mid-Shore Scholars, a college success program aimed specifically at high school-aged students who are aspiring to be the first in their families to go to college
EEDC: What is it about Easton that facilitated establishing these programs here versus anywhere else?
GM: Easton, actually all of Talbot County, provides an incredible landscape or ecosystem for our program and the children that we serve to really thrive. There’s a lot of volunteerism and volunteer energy. There’s also a lot of philanthropic energy in our community. And there’s an incredible amount of young people who can benefit from the programs and services that we offer.
EEDC: Are you from the Eastern Shore?
GM: I was born and raised here. This is all I ever knew until I had the opportunity to go off to college. In fact, I was the first in my family to go to college. For about nine years after college, I pursued a career in capital markets; it was my dream, and I was fortunate to land in exactly the industry and exactly in the type of company that I wanted to work in New York.
During the time I spent away from Talbot County, I got a chance to understand just how fortunate I had been in many ways through no doing of my own. I was born in a very safe, rural, calm community, which gave me advantages that many people outside of Talbot County don’t have, young people in particular.
So, a quick kind of important chapter of my professional experience is that with my wife Samantha, we had the opportunity to help start a charter school in one of the poorest school districts in New York. We spent three years doing that.
EEDC: So, how did you get involved with the mentorship programs?
GM: In 2016, we decided to move back to the Eastern Shore because we had had our daughter and wanted to raise our family here. So, I came back to my hometown and was inspired to join Talbot mentors, first as a volunteer, and shortly after that, I got the opportunity to apply for the Executive Director position.
The organization resonated with me because I had been the beneficiary of several mentors throughout my life. Everything that happened to me, and that continues to happen is in some way, has been impacted and influenced by mentors, so I strongly believe in the power of mentorship. Talbot Mentors is a great opportunity for me to continue to serve, which is something that I’m convinced that I’ll always do in one way or another
EEDC: Is your wife, Samantha, part of the programs?
GM: She was actually the founding executive director of Mid-Shore Scholars when it wasn’t part of Talbot Mentors. She then continued in a part-time role on the Mid-Shore Scholars staff. Now she’s coming off of the program in a formal capacity but will continue to volunteer.
EEDC: So now Talbot Mentors and Mid-Shore Scholars are one program?
GM: That’s right, Mid-Shore Scholars was a program operating under the Mid-Shore Communities Foundation under their 501(c)(3) for about a year. And then, in 2016, we incorporated.
EEDC: How many kids are in each program?
GM: Right now, we have 25 scholars in the Mid-Shore Scholars program and about 95 young people matched with a mentor.
EEDC: How does a child qualify for the Talbot Mentors program?
GM: The county public school guidance counselors refer children to us who they think could benefit from a one-to-one mentor. And we take it from there.
EEDC: Is there a need for mentor volunteers?
GM: Yes, absolutely. I fundamentally believe that every young person can benefit from mentorship. If we think about our own lives, no matter who we are, where we came from, what we had or didn’t have, we all have benefitted from mentorship. So, we’re always looking for folks who are interested in being matched with a young person.
I will say this, though: because of the pandemic, we cannot encourage in-person meetings, so we’re not actively making matches until we have the confidence that we can do so comfortably.
EEDC: How does a child qualify for the Mid-Shore Scholars program?
GM: I guess the best way I can describe it is that many of those young people are self-identified. The program started with four scholars when it was just being piloted in 2018. And those four scholars grew to eight scholars, that grew to 10 scholars to 15 and finally to 25.
EEDC: How would you describe the goal of Mid-Shore Scholars?
GM: The goal is that 100% of our program participants get into the college. 100% of them stay in college, and 100% of them graduate college.
EEDC: Wow. That’s quite an ambition!
GM: The reason that’s important is because data tells us that among first-generation college, aspiring students, only 11% graduate with a degree within six years. So, our goal is not just to get young people to college, it’s to get them through college.
EEDC: Can people volunteer for the Mid-Shore Scholars program?
GM: If someone’s been involved in the college admissions world, or post-secondary education, or on boards of trustees, I would encourage them to contact Vivian Landau because we always are looking to expand our network with colleges and universities across the country where we want our young people to go.
EEDC: What about donating to the programs?
GM: We are always looking for corporate partners who feel a sense of corporate citizenship or corporate responsibility to give back to our community. I would encourage principals or business owners to contact us. Go to our website to our corporate partners page to see ways that we can partner with our business community.
EEDC: What would you want to say to the business community??
GM: I want them to understand that our vision, our hope for the program overall, and for the organization as a whole, is to support our young people throughout their journey because we believe that is the future of our community. These are the civic leaders and the business owners. They are our future.
I also want them to know that we are trying to prepare our young people who we hope we can retain here in Talbot County and who will become contributors to our tax base.