I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Rebecca Martin

Rebecca Martin: Getting jazzed about community change

Rebecca Martin has been singing since she was a girl growing up in Maine. Since the early 1990s, she has made a name for herself as a noted jazz stylist and singer/songwriter. Now, Martin feels that she's come into her own, not only as a jazz professional, but as an education activist in her new home town of Kingston.

Her role as a dedicated education activist in her community spurred from the passion she felt after discovering her son, Charlie, had learning difficulties. She was determined to make a change not only for her son, but for all Hudson Valley students.

Changing her tune

Martin and her husband, noted jazz bass player Larry Grenadier, moved to the Hudson Valley in 2002. The two were able to move their livelihoods, which involved touring and recording, to Kingston, easily. As she notes, shifting from the folk to the jazz world allowed her to envision her work as a lifelong career. "I approach it one project at a time," she adds, noting her background in production work. "I'm good at figuring things out. "

That attitude helped Martin when Charlie entered her and Larry's lives in late 2005, figuring out each of Charlie's challenges, one project at a time. "I just hunkered down and held up the home front," she explains of her 21 year marriage and the many ways in which it's flourished.

Martin started working alongside others she met while pregnant with Charlie who were equally committed to their community, and giving back.

"Becoming a parent is the most humbling opportunity to experience the world in new ways...," she says. "It changed my ties to the community we'd moved to. I felt I had to serve my community; it was as though my own sense of commitment to my child made me more and more authentic. It opened up more questions, more reflections."

The perfect fit

Martin and her mother broke into tears after first visiting Hawk Meadow Montessori School in Poughkeepsie for Charlie, where he's since risen to the top of his class. Hawk Meadow had the perfect mixture of freedom, diversity, and routine for Charlie to feel perfectly comfortable.

"It's our time," she says. "It feels like all of a sudden something is changing...a nestled thinking." Martin tried a lot of schools until she found the right one. She even home schooled for six months, where her and Charlie worked on his reading, writing, and confidence.

READ MORE: Pick the right school for your child

Playing up your assets

Charlie is dyslexic and after learning about his learning difficulties, Martin realized she too was dyslexic. For her, though, things were different given the close-knit community she grew up in.

"The true disability is how we look at these things," she says. "Growing up, everything I am was seen as an asset. I've come to treasure how wonderful it is when we find a place that supports us, where kids can concentrate."

READ MORE: Caring organizations for special needs families

Making a difference

Recently, Martin realized she was ready to kick things up a notch. "Now that Charlie is older, I am ready to place more attention on my own work, she says.

Her son is thriving at Hawk Meadow Montessori School, and she is ready to extend her own effectiveness by organizing a series of workshops where people could learn how to utilize local government to address local concerns.

"It feels so good to me," she says. "I always want to learn more, and can do more."

Among the evens her organization, Kingston Citizens (KingstonCitizens.org), has sponsored have been community education forums on constitutional law, climate change, immigration and public education issues, as well as an upcoming July 13 session on municipal charters and reform to be held at the Kingston Public Library.

"We've been looking into ways in which state and county laws can help us," she says. "The idea is to share with people those tools we have in this democracy. With that, you can build people's confidence that you can change things, that such change really does occur on a local basis."

READ MORE: Dan Plunkett is a dad making a difference  

Paul Smart is a father who writes for a variety of publications in the Hudson Valley. He lives in Catskill.

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