Maria Martinez: On Growing Wings and Sparkling Through Service
By Donna Kelly

Maria Martinez sparkles.

Her life’s mission is to show others how to sparkle, too.

“I’m inspired to help others,” says Martinez, a learning facilitator for the Center for Behavioral Excellence and a community leader in Lakeland. “My work with organizations is all about wanting people to be inspired, empowered, and motivated to achieve their goals.”

While the 49-year old mother of two has received recognition from the local chapters of two national organizations — Toastmasters and the American Business Women’s Association — and the City of Lakeland for her service to others, her journey has been challenging and life changing.

Growing Wings

“All my life I suffered with (lack of) self-esteem,” she says without a hint of self-pity. “My parents were divorced and I suffered from abandonment issues.”

At 24-years old, the native of Puerto Rico decided to change the course of her life. She joined the army in 1992 and spent four years as a supply clerk.

“It was a great opportunity to grow wings,” she says. “Sometimes you have to jump and grow your wings on the way down.”

The army brought her to the United States, but she stayed to give her daughter, Dymarie, a better life. Seeking a warmer climate, she moved from New Jersey to Lakeland 20 years ago. A year later, her son, Andrew, was born. “Lakeland has been my little paradise, a great place to raise a family,” she says.

Martinez held a series of jobs while she added credentials to her resume: A Bachelor of Science degree in business management from St. Leo University and a Masters of Business Administration in global Mmanagement from the University of Phoenix. In 2005, she settled in for a five-year stint with Polk County as a family support supervisor with the intention of building it into a career.

Having met her educational objectives and landed in a meaningful career, Martinez set a new goal: to become healthy. At the time, she was carrying 205 pounds on her 5-foot frame. Her focus became researching and adopting sustainable lifestyle changes to achieve and maintain optimum weight.

A funny thing happened on the way to wellness. As more people noticed the change in Martinez’s appearance, her career goals began to morph.

“By all accounts I was successful, but internally I didn’t think I was doing everything I could,” she says. “I was motivated to be a (life) coach because I wanted to empower others.”

Shining Her Light

Martinez stretched her wings in 2009 by becoming a certified life coach through the Institute for Life Coach Training and completing a Wellness Inventory Certification Program. She also founded INNERactive Coaching, LLC, an online life coaching business she ran from 2009 to 2016.

The business was a vehicle for her to not only live her life’s motto, “Shine your light,” but also to motivate others to adopt it for their own.

“I’ve been blessed in so many ways, I feel it’s my duty to shine my light in different ways,” she explains.

The secret, she shares with a smile, is to be an active participant in life.

“The best way to get better is to change your lifestyle,” she explains.

She cautions about the perils of overextending one’s self.

“Get involved with things you love,” she suggests. For Martinez, a self-described homebody, that means her family and interior design, and community service.

It didn’t take long, however, to realize she was trying to do too much.

“I don’t think we should fail any promises, especially to ourselves,” says Martinez.

She examined her activities, assessed her goals and reset her priorities.

Cheers to the Magic Formula

“I started teaching and joining organizations to give me a vehicle to give back to the community. I narrowed my focus to organizations that matter most to me,” she explains. “My heart and passions are in these two groups: Toastmasters and the American Business Women’s Association.”

Toastmasters is commonly known as an organization designed to improve one’s speaking skills, but Martinez says it’s so much more.

“It’s a safe place where people can come in where they are and start a journey,” she says, eyes flashing with exuberance.

The journey not only involves public speaking experiences, but also mentoring and developing leadership skills by taking on different roles in the club.

Martinez has served as a past president, mentor, and ambassador for Club 2262 in Lakeland. She’s also been recognized as a Distinguished Toastmaster, a designation representing the highest level of educational achievement in Toastmasters.

John Morrow, an officer in both the Lakeland Toastmasters Club and the MIDLakeland Toastmasters Club, describes Martinez as fearless, positive, motivated, inspirational, a dynamic leader and team builder.

“Maria sees all of us as assets, leaders, gifted and capable of endless potential,” says Morrow, a professional keynote speaker who has known Martinez for about 10 years. “Her message is about the audience and what makes them great. She is our cheerleader for personal achievement.”

Martinez’s face sparkled one afternoon following a recent American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) as she explained how the organizations members “grow personally and professionally through leadership, education, networking support and national recognition,” as their mission statement proclaims.

“I always use a bit of sparkle (glitter makeup) when I do ABWA activities as I believe it makes people smile, it’s a great networking tool as it opens conversations, and even better, it reminds everyone that we have permission to shine,” she explains.

Martinez is a past president of the organization and has chaired a number of committees from communication to publicity to leadership.

Gina Berry, who has served on the ABWA national board of directors, describes Martinez as a “community collaborator and connector” who promotes the concept of supporting Lakeland businesses and local ABWA members.

Berry says Martinez is also an effective and respected mentor.

“Maria lives and breathes daily personal and professional transformation, always taking that next step, being the example of what is possible,” Berry says. “She knows the right questions to ask to set the mentee on her own transformation journey through self-discovery and action… She stresses the importance of consistency being the key to long-term success.”

For Martinez, her work with these two organizations is about paying it forward, imparting wisdom she’s gained along the way, and assisting others in making the most of their lives.

“I love my ABWA sisters. It’s been an amazing journey. It gave me courage,” she says.

As her own life journey continues, Martinez credits ABWA and Toastmasters for providing opportunities for personal growth.

“In ABWA I received a big award. It changed my life. Toastmasters helped me find my voice,” she says. “I believe in the mission statements of both organizations. I don’t endorse anything if I don’t believe in it.”

Martinez’s sparkle comes more from what she feels inside than the glitter she applies to her skin before ABWA events.

“Giving and receiving has been that magic formula,” she says, her eyes dancing. “Everything changes from within.”