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‘To Whom Much Is Given’

Aid provided in student days inspired a passion to volunteer

As a black, Hispanic female from Linwood, Pa., I was not the typical Swarthmore engineering student. In fact I was only able to attend thanks to Swarthmore’s generous financial aid package. While a student, my mother frequently reminded me of the biblical quote from Luke 12:48: “From every one to whom much is given, much shall be required.” 

For me, that meant studying hard, completing my assignments, and never missing class. Following graduation, I decided to pay back some of the aid I’d received by consistently donating to the College. Over time, I discovered that an even more gratifying way to give back was through volunteering—not just to benefit the College but ultimately the community in general. And so it’s to Swarthmore that I owe my commitment to giving the three T’s—time, talent, and treasure.

I volunteered as an admissions interviewer, then joined the Swarthmore Alumni Council, serving eight years, including two years as president and an ex officio member of the Board of Managers. Through my Alumni Council service I learned about the College from a new perspective while meeting Swatties ranging from the ’50s and ’60s to the Class of 2014. My council tenure ended in 2011, but my passion for service didn’t. Currently, I volunteer 30 to 40 hours a week for nine nonprofits in the Houston community that focus on education, services for the blind, and the arts. 

Of all my volunteer activities—from fundraising for student scholarships to a broadcast program I’ve developed to spotlight volunteers—one in particular combines my two great loves, theater and assisting visually impaired individuals. I volunteer for Sight Into Sound, transferring written material like textbooks and magazines to audio. Every week I read People magazine on Sight and Sound radio, a Houston station that is also a and a smartphone app, so anyone, anywhere can access the station. 

As a theater lover, I’m a member of a group that “audio-describes” live theater performances for blind audience members, who listen in on headphones as I sit in a sound booth and describe on-stage visuals not able to be detected through the dialogue. My mission is for blind patrons to “see” the show as well if not better than their sighted counterparts. I describe at five Houston theaters and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Sometimes, as a volunteer, I also experience what I describe as small miracles. Once, while ushering at a performance of The Lion King for autistic children, one young but big boy was acting out—lying on the floor blocking the aisle, refusing to cooperate with his caregivers. When the show ended and I was ushering people out, the boy came up to me and held my hand. His father freaked out, thinking I would be upset, but I said, “It’s cool.” The boy held my hand until the theater emptied. I hear from people who work with children on the autistic spectrum that things like that don’t happen.

I will always be driven to give back, not because it is required, but because I have something to contribute. As Gene Lang ’38 told me during a conversation on Parrish Porch when we were both on the Board of Managers, “If you can do something that takes little effort from you but provides so much to others, why would you not do it?”


Sabrina Martinez ’92, an employee at a Houston-based multinational energy corporation, co-authored three books last year: Change Your World So You Can Change the World; Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming The World One Person At A Time; and The Art of Activation: 24 Laws to Win, to Thrive, to Prosper, to Rise.