Florida’s former first lady Mary Jane Martinez always wanted to help children, said those who helped honor her recently.
The Hillsborough County Children’s Services Girls Shelter at the agency’s Lake Magdalene campus was named the Mary Jane Martinez Cottage in a recent ceremony.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman told about 150 guests: “She has wanted the best; she has given her best.”
While serving as Florida’s first lady from 1987 to 1991, she founded and served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Youth and Family Foundation of Florida. The foundation provided support to a network of organizations that provide shelter and crisis counseling services with the goal of keeping families together.
“My experience as a high school teacher and a media specialist helped me understand the many problems they (teens) have,” Martinez told the guests, which included her husband, former Gov. Bob Martinez; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; former Mayor Pam Iorio; former U.S. congressman Jim Davis; and other community leaders.
“I knew I had an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many young people,” she added, saying the network has a 90 percent success rate with the families.
The shelter can house 12 girls, said Danielle Husband, program director for the services center. The campus is licensed for ages 10 to 17. The average age is 14.
Some girls are runaways and “the idea is to stabilize the family,” Husband said.
When Martinez started the foundation, there were about 15 shelters across the state. That number is now doubled, with more than 500,000 youth and families served statewide.
“The network allowed them (youth in need) to be with people who really cared about them instead of being part of the juvenile court system,” Martinez said.
In January, the former first lady, who is active in Tampa in Red Cross Angels and other organizations, was recognized by the foundation in a ceremony in Tallahassee.
At the Tampa ceremony, Murman, a Davis Islands resident, said was honored to participate because “Mary Jane has been a personal friend” for many years.
“The opportunity to name this is so fitting,” she said. Laughing, she added, “It’s good to have Bob in the backseat for once.”