When she was a recent college graduate, Nicole Martin spent many long nights on the phone helping women in crisis.
Martin consistently volunteered for overnight shifts at the Missoula YWCA, skimping on sleep to answer the crisis line as a volunteer women's advocate for the organization's Pathways Program.
"If someone needed to talk with an advocate, leave a violent situation quickly and get to safety, Nicole was there in those late-night and early hours," said Rebecca Pettit, YWCA Missoula's former volunteer coordinator who oversaw Martin at the time.
Pettit said Martin excelled as a compassionate ear to women in need, and a wealth of information and resources.
For Martin, who now serves as the Missoula Family YMCA's senior director of youth programs, helping other people has always been a priority.
Martin knew she wanted to be in social work from a young age. She moved to Missoula when she was a teenager, attended Sentinel High School and enrolled at the University of Montana with a major in social work soon after.
"I think you go into social work maybe wanting to save people, like that's the 18-year-old me knowing, 'I want to make a difference and I want to help people who need me,'" Martin said. "Now it's really looking at, 'I want to make a difference for the whole community.'"
During college, Martin cemented her passion as an intern at the Student Assault Resource Center on campus. She continued to work at the center after graduating, in addition to volunteering for the YWCA, and went on to work at Big Brothers Big Sisters for nine years until it closed in 2018. Over the summer, she started her new role at the YMCA and although she maintains a busy schedule, she still finds time to volunteer as a leader of Missoula Aging Services' monthly Alzheimer's support group.
Heather Foster, CEO of the Missoula Family YMCA, said Martin has been a welcome addition to the team.
"Nicole has already added so much value and strength to both our programs and leadership team," Foster said.
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Just a few months into her new role, Martin has already helped expand the organization's after-school programs to two new locations: Russell and Chief Charlo Elementary.
The program follows specific standards set by the state health department to ensure kids receive quality care.
It also offers parents an affordable option, costing some families as little as $20 a month, because eligible low-income families can use the state's Best Beginnings scholarship program.
Without a licensed facility, parents aren't able to use the state's scholarship money, and might not be able to find affordable child care elsewhere in Missoula. At the YMCA program, students have access to help with their homework, healthy snacks, counselors with whom they can build relationships, and enriching activities.
The program serves children in grades K-5 at four locations. In addition to the new offerings at Chief Charlo Elementary, and Russell Elementary, which serves students from Russell and Franklin, students can attend at Hellgate Elementary School or Paxson Elementary, which serves kids from Paxson, Lowell, and Lewis and Clark.
Martin said it's important to her to make sure kids are afforded equal opportunity, whether in education or in access to "the same healthy place to be after school."
"We’re in a room full of kids right now and each one of them has a different back story," she said at the program's Russell Elementary location. "Some of them have experienced domestic violence, some of them are not living with their parents right now because of that or other issues. Then we have kids here who have all the resources and family support that they could ask for and we're all playing on the playground together."
Even when she's not working, Martin said she feels a social responsibility to help others.
"If I want to work in nonprofits that require the support of the community to run, like through volunteers through financial contributions, then I feel like I need to be doing that, too," she said. "So I dedicate my professional life and my personal life to always be volunteering and active in the community."