NEW MILFORD - At a crossroads in her life, Christy Martin tapped into her nurturing nature to build a second career, one that would challenge her patience and touch her heart.

"This is not how I envisioned my life, but it's turned out all right," said Martin, a former nurse who this spring was named one of three Connecticut Association of Adult Continuing Education Educators of the Year. Since 1998, the 49-year-old facilitator of New Milford's adult education program has been charged with motivating young and older adults to succeed in their second, sometimes third or fourth, chances at finishing high school. She also works with non-English-speaking adults on literacy skills and with parents to promote family literacy through both formal and informal instruction. "Every night is different," Martin said of the adult education program, which this semester serves 90 adults in high school diploma courses and 70 in English As a Second Language classes. "Some nights you come in with a plan and you have to just throw it out the window," she said. "But that keeps it interesting." After 18 years in nursing - she worked her way up from a nurses' aide back in 1975, to the director of nursing at a local nursing home, to administrator at a private home-care nursing facility - Martin was in a head-on car crash that shattered the right side of her body, requiring 16 leg surgeries and a five-year recuperation. Realizing she could no longer endure the physical rigors involved in nursing, Martin began to rethink what she wanted to do with her professional life. A friend who is a guidance counselor asked her about running a part-time adult education child-care program. "The funny thing is I had taught certified nursing assistant courses for previous adult education programs, so there were parallels I hadn't even realized," she said. Soon after she started with that program, there was a vacancy for the adult education facilitator. Martin opted to give it a try. "I had forgotten how good it was to use my brain," Martin said with a chuckle. Once she started, she found the job an ideal fit. She was again able to make a real difference in people's lives, particularly lives filled with struggle and disappointment. "Our program is all about second chances," Martin said. "Whatever you've done in the past, here you have a chance to come back and try again." Over the years, she said, she and the other adult education teachers have seen a lot of young and older adults, who simply couldn't succeed in the regular high school education program. Or, they made bad choices that forced them to drop out or miss credits they needed to graduate. There are also those who are mandated by the courts to attend adult education. Yet everyone who comes into this program comes with a "clean slate," said adult education guidance counselor
Joe Neff
. Sitting next to each other in their office one night, Martin and Neff reflected on their jobs. Not every students who enrolls is ready to perform, and some, they've observed, are naturally rebellious to any authority or discipline. "They've had to so many failures that this success is so much harder for them to get, and sometimes they reach a point where they think they can't," Martin said. She, Neff and the other instructors do a lot of hand-holding and nudging so students do the work required to earn the diploma they need and want, she said. With determination, and the direction this program offers, many eventually find success, Martin said. Martin recalled one male student whom she described as a "royal pain," and who for two years never had a nice word to say the instructors. Then one night he popped his head into the office and asked if he could pick up Chinese food for the staff. It was his brand of thank-you, she said. Many of the younger adults simply need time to grow up. When they settle down and have a bit of maturity, they are "such a pleasure," Neff said. "We're just waiting for the light to turn on." "And when the light turns on, it's great," Martin said. Martin's colleagues suggest she is the backbone of this program. "She's phenomenal, unbelievable," Neff said. "She knows every student personally. This program wouldn't be half as good as it is if she weren't here." Adult education director John Lee concurs. He said the facilitators' duties are multi-faceted, since they are the liaison between the state and the local adult education programs and are required to do a lot of "very different things to keep things flowing." He said beyond administering the regular adult education program, Martin initiated the parent and child literacy program, which has blossomed under her tutelage. "Christine has done a wonderful job," Lee commended. Though this job is not the one she might have envisioned earlier in her life, Martin said it is another way to nurture people and has brought her unexpected rewards. Her favorite is graduation day. "Graduations are very cool," said Martin of the ceremony, which this year is scheduled for June 14. "It makes all the stuff in between worth it."

Contact Nanci G. Hutson


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