Drive onto Trail Creek Drive into the Pinewood Estates North mobile home park to lot F-8 on a Wednesday afternoon, and you will arrive at Oasis Católico Santa Rafaela. Walk over a bridge and further into the area and you will see multiple trailers, for different grade levels, surrounding a small courtyard with picnic tables. Around 5 p.m., you may witness a debriefing and recap of the day with the volunteers, before they sign out and leave to go home.
The 2013 Census Bureau indicates that about 10 percent of the Clarke County population is of Hispanic or Latino descent. Pinewood represents this population, and the residents there are provided various services, such as tutoring through Oasis. Founded in 2002 by the Sisters of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Oasis is an organization and ministry that affects the lives of the community members on a daily basis, thanks to the direction and vision of its executive director.
“You feel that you want to make a difference in the world,” said Sister Margarita Martin, who runs the program, when asked about making the choice to join the convent in 1962. Born and raised in Spain, Martin was sent to Ireland for a year to learn English, and then traveled to England for three years and Rome, Italy for one year. In 1972, she was sent to the U.S.
“Every single human being should question what is life about,” she said.
Prior to becoming a nun, Martin pursued her passion of piano at a fine arts music conservatory in Madrid. She also has earned a B.A. in liberal arts in Baltimore and a master’s degree in personal studies in Atlanta. Other job titles in the past include grade school teacher, high school teacher, hospital chaplain in the ICU and spiritual director.
While serving as the pastoral associate at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Athens, Martin was confronted by a young child who said that Mexicans need a place to be cared for and loved. This resonated with her and raised awareness of the needs and desires of the community around her. Martin believes hospitality and ensuring others “feel welcomed, loved, and appreciated” is essential. She works, and lives, in Pinewood with two other sisters.
“We’re here 24/7, so they come to us for anything and everything,” Martin said. She speaks both Spanish and English to the children, but often times the parents do not speak English, posing challenges for homework help and communication in schools. That is where Oasis steps in, allowing tutoring Monday through Thursday from 2:30-5:00 p.m. for 3-year-olds to third graders.
Martin’s impact has extended not only to the families of Pinewood, but to the volunteers as well. At least 200 tutors sign up to assist in the classrooms each semester and commit to coming at least once a week.
“[Sister Margarita Martin] saw a problem and made a whole after-school program to fix it,” said Elizabeth Morales, senior administrative assistant of Oasis and a third-year student studying international affairs. Martin is in charge of the whole program and still knows all the kids in the community, Morales said.
Leeza Hester, a second-year exercise and sport science major from Smyrna, Georgia, said, “She’s a leader. She helps us help the kids.” This is Hester’s first semester volunteering at Oasis, and she said Martin’s “desire to help those who can’t help themselves, like the children” is what makes her so special.
Martin demonstrates love by providing food for the community. Recently she donated eggs to the people of Pinewood, and she gives the children cookies during recess at Oasis, said Hester. Up to 9,000 eggs are delivered every Friday and provided by UGA, said Martin.
At the end of the day, what’s the most important part of her job?
“Healing hearts,” Martin said. She ultimately wishes to “Just be the voice of these children”.