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Home News A lengthy career helping: More than 30 years of social work

Monday, December 1, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Valerie Arendt
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Nancy Martin is a member of NASW-NC.


Hickory Record (Hickory, NC)




HICKORY — Nancy Martin pulled a muffin tin out of the oven. The smell of perfectly golden strawberry cheesecake dough filled the kitchen. Coffee gurgled in the pot on the counter across from the cooling cakes.

Martin sat at her kitchen table, which was set for two. The sun beamed intermittently through the windows.

She moved to the house near the Catawba River about eight years ago, she said. Before moving in next door to one of her daughters, though, Martin, now 74, was living in a beach house on the North Carolina coast.

But her roots in the Western Piedmont date back more than two decades.

Martin lived and worked in several counties across the state before settling in Caldwell County. For 23 years she then worked in the Western Carolina Center, later renamed the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, in Morganton. She retired in 2000 as a supervisor.

Martin laid a handful of worn papers next to her on the kitchen table. The edges were discolored and frayed. The cover read “Social Work” in handwritten, capital letters.

The papers were part of a project Martin did when she was 14 years old — a ninth-grade student at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem. At the time, Martin said she aspired to be a nurse. But the assignment to research social work stemmed from the results of a career-guidance test.

A young Martin stumbled onto Jane Addams, a pioneer in the social work field and the second woman to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I was already interested in people and helping people,” Martin said of her fledging nursing career. Then, a lackluster chemistry class turned her away from nursing and sparked an interest in social work.

She graduated from high school in 1958 before attending UNC-Greensboro.

Martin worked in Virginia for a year after college but fled the snow and landed in Person County’s Department of Social Services. When she showed up for work, she sat down in an office that she shared with the man she would eventually marry, Melvin Martin. The couple married in 1965, and four years later, Nancy Martin graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a master’s degree.

In more than 30 years of social work, Martin said she has seen her share of heartbreak and frustration. But the job did not come without its successes, too.

“(I did it) just because I felt like it was my passion,” she said. “I felt good most of the days I went home from helping people.”

Martin squinted as she remembered a family she worked with in September 1963 — she remembered all the dates. A mother of nine kids, she said, was pregnant with a 10th child. The dad was in and out of treatment for an alcohol addiction.

The oldest child, a boy, was a good high school student. He wanted to get out of the situation to become a doctor.

So Martin, working with the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, found the boy a scholarship that paid him $500. It was enough to send him to Mars Hill University.

“I felt very good about that,” Martin said.

Now in retirement, Martin is on the board of directors for the Shelter Home in Caldwell County, a haven for victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. She’s always looking for ways to raise money for the shelter. Most recently, they sold Christmas wreaths.

She also works to help people in need through programs at her church, First Presbyterian in Hickory.

Martin wore a trick-or-treat-themed T-shirt and dished up fresh muffins dressed in Halloween paper on that late-October morning. Her coffee was complemented by a healthy shot of creamer.

She said her three decades of working with hurting families confirmed something she knew all along.

“Most people are good,” Martin said. “Everybody has a good side. And we all have our faults.”


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