• “Dream job” at Big Brothers Big Sisters lets Wisconsin native “invest” in her passion
By Christine Whiting
Jenny Martin has a special place in her heart for kids. It’s a passion inspired —in great part — by her mother, and one that consistently fuels her tireless efforts as Community Director with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Homer.
“I don’t have kids of my own, so I have the time and energy to be with kids,” Martin explained. “I love their enthusiasm and the way they view the world.”
However, children are not her only love.
This year, Martin celebrates 20 years living in Homer. Always carving her own unique path, Martin’s creativity, laughter and independence are inspiring.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Martin lived in Colorado before coming to Alaska for the first time in the summer of 1989 to work at the Denali Park entrance. She worked in Denali for the next three summers, and in 1992, came to Homer to visit a friend. She fell in love with the community and decided to call Homer home.
“When I worked in Denali, I knew I wanted to stay in Alaska,” Martin said. “When I came to Homer, I knew this was where I wanted to live.”
As with many people moving to Homer, Martin has worked a variety of jobs as they became available over the years, including Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus and the Homer Chamber of Commerce. She also worked in community mental health, but truly found her niche three years ago when she was hired as Program Specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters. There, she spent her time matching adults with youths and did a lot of community outreach.
Just last month, Martin was promoted to the position of Community Director.
“I’m always looking to challenge myself and to advance in whatever I’m doing, whether it’s professionally or personally,” she explained. “When this job opportunity came up, it was a great chance for me to really invest in my passion. It’s a dream job for me.”
In 1997, Martin bought a parcel of land on Ohlson Mountain Road and, with the help of family and friends, began building her home.
“The foundation was built in the spring, the building began in August, and by September, I was living in my Homer-livable home,” she said. “There was electricity, but no water; no sheetrock on the walls, no windows on the first floor, and it was heated with wood.”
With no money to buy a car, Martin walked to and from work for more than a year. It was a daily, 14-mile trek through Homer’s seasons, which she grew to love. She occasionally accepted rides on the return walk home after especially long days. In 2004, she transitioned to a life with water, windows and new wheels.
Music is also important to Martin, who said it acts as a great creative outlet. It helps her connect with herself and the world around her.
“Both of my parents love music,” Martin said. “Neither plays an instrument, but there was always music in the house when I was growing up.”
Martin played tenor saxophone through high school and performed in a rock band when she was 17. In 1999, her brother gave her a guitar, and she learned to play by mimicking her guitar-playing friends Mindy Parks and Marybee Kaufman. She also taught herself to play the stand-up bass.
Neighbor Dylan Weiser invited Martin to join his weekly music night, and the gathering of six guitar players eventually expanded to include a mandolin player and a banjo player.
“Our unnamed band’s first gig was at the Homer Street Faire,” she said. “Eventually, we became ‘Work in Progress.’”
Martin also writes music, drawing from life experiences to pen songs about her encounter with a family of ptarmigans on the Alcan, sheet-rocking her house, and, “The Plumbing Song,” which she wrote after handing over a check for $1,500 to her plumber.
Her “Outhouse Song” describes the challenges of living without running water, and was written after she attended a John Prine concert. Martin said she was impressed with the very simple songs he wrote, and was immediately inspired to write the first line of the “Outhouse Song” chorus, “It’s time to dig a new hole.”
Work in Progress will perform at the Homer Council on the Arts on Nov. 1, when the group hopes to have its first CD of original music available.
“It might be a single; it might be six songs,” she explained. “We don’t know. We’re just having a lot of fun putting it together.”
As for her future in Homer, Martin said she loves it here and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“The people here are very special,” she explained. “There’s a real spirit of acceptance; no matter who you are or what your story is, as long as you’re a good person, you can just hang out. I’m hanging out and having a really good time.”
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