Sociology major Stanley Martinez ’19 didn’t bat an eye this summer when he got kicked by a horse. As he walked alongside the steed, during a horseback riding session with one of his campers at Double H Ranch, the horse got spooked and its hind leg lashed out at him—a jolt that brought back a memory from his youth when Martinez used to tame wild horses with his father in the Dominican Republic.
Martinez moved to the U.S. when he was just four years old, but he spent his summers back in the Dominican Republic with his father and brother. He remembers his father buying wild horses from small villages in the DR—feral horses that had never interacted with humans before. They would then take them down to the river to subdue and train them for use on the family farm.
“I’ve trained horses to be domesticated, and it’s pretty cool because that was a way to bond with my dad. I got hit a couple times, and it was pretty scary because the horses jump around, but that’s why we put them in water,” he said. “That was a great experience. That’s one of the best memories I have with my parents—just the trust a father can have in a son for something that is as dangerous as training a wild horse.”
Back in New York this summer, Martinez tried to avoid the wrath of horses and act as a mentor for children himself at the Double H Ranch, a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses, in Lake Luzerne, N.Y. The eight-week-long internship, set up through SUNY Potsdam’s Lougheed Center for Applied Learning, was one of the greatest leadership experiences of his life. Martinez had never worked with children before, especially not children with illnesses ranging from hemophilia to sickle cell anemia, but he embraced the challenge. His days were filled with mentorship opportunities while taking the kids fishing, swimming, horseback riding or to the archery range.
He also learned that children can be as unpredictable as wild horses. “This is hard! You have to be vigilant at all times. The moment you’re not paying attention there could be a kid jumping on a pool table and ready to fall,” he said.
When things quieted down at night the campers and counselors were able to sit down in their cabins to talk about a variety of topics. At the beginning of the week, the children discussed their favorite color or animal, but by the end of the week, the topics were much deeper. The young campers started talking about changing the world, or something that they wanted to relive. “I never thought kids would be so deep. Every week, you have that camper that sticks with you. It brings me to tears sometimes. There was a kid, one of his parents passed away, and I just took him under my wing,” Martinez said.
The biggest lesson he learned over the summer was to always have positive energy, even when he was exhausted from working long days. “When we’re tired—or we’ve had no sleep because maybe the kids were too rowdy, or we stayed up until 1 a.m. because someone was homesick before waking right back up at 7 a.m.—we have to bring that energy, because we’re working for that kid’s smile, because outside of camp, they have difficulties with their illnesses,” he said.
Martinez just completed the 12-credit internship, made possible by the Mary Sellers Morgan ’53 & Kenneth T. Morgan Internship Scholarship, and is back at SUNY Potsdam to finish his senior year. Even before working as a camp counselor this summer, he had always been a natural leader. During his sophomore and junior years he worked as a Resident Assistant on campus, and last spring he started coaching the College’s Potsdam Polecats rugby club, while also being an athlete on the team.
“I was a cheerleader and tennis player in high school, and I came into college and got into rugby. Anyone can do it. I went from super non-contact sports into rugby, and I’m over here thriving and being a coach and helping people,” he said.
In the fall of 2017, the rugby club was in bad shape and Martinez worked hard to turn things around. “We went from having eight members at the start of last fall, to having 40 members by the end of the spring. We had 25 new recruits this last spring. It was great,” Martinez said.
The rugby team will have a new field this year, located next to the softball fields on campus. “I’ve worked super hard with the Student Government Association and the school to get a new rugby field for the team. Bill Mitchell (director of club sports and campus recreation) has been a great support. He’s been helping me a lot. He just emailed me yesterday about finally getting the official goal posts,” Martinez said.
The rugby team is one of more than 130 clubs and organizations on campus. Martinez encourages incoming students to get involved with campus life and meet new people. “At the end of the day, you’re going to meet people who are going to change your life or make you feel better. Make sure you find that organization, and if you don’t find one, make your own,” Martinez said.
Martinez has made the most of his time at SUNY Potsdam. In addition to all his involvement with his sociology major, minor in sexual health, and leadership role on the rugby team, he has also been active with the Wilderness Education program—doing a six-hour winter hike in the Adirondacks in the pitch black. Last year, he also had the opportunity to travel to Belize with eight other students through Dr. Glenn Johnson’s 14-day “Tropical Ecology and Conservation” travel course.
As he looks to the future, Martinez has the goal of being a counselor or a therapist, providing people with support and guidance on a daily basis.
For more information about internships and other applied learning opportunities at SUNY Potsdam, visit: www.potsdam.edu/support/ssc/eeo
For a list of all the clubs and organizations on campus, visit: www.potsdam.edu/studentlife/clubs
Article and Photos by Jason Hunter