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Catty resident named YWCA Woman of Year

Marci Martinez-Howey, of Catasauqua, thought she was joining a regular Zoom staff meeting for her job at United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, when her co-workers, friends and husband surprised her by announcing she had won the YWCA Bethlehem Woman of the Year award.

“I was speechless - and then emotional. I have attended the Women and Teens event for about six years now, and it has always been one of my favorites,” Martinez-Howey said. “I am inspired yearly by the women and young girls who are honored for the work they do in community, in their work and in school.”

Martinez-Howey was nominated by her boss, Debbie Klocek, vice president of finance and administration. Letters were also written on her behalf by Marci Lesko, executive vice president of UWGLV; Kelly Chando, director of development at St. Luke’s University Health Network as well as a friend and former colleague; and Lauryn Graves, a friend and community and government relations specialist at Air Products.

“One look at her community involvement, and it’s easy to see that Marci is committed to our Valley’s success,” Klocek said. “Education, racial and gender equity and financial literacy are among her passions, and she takes a leadership role to encourage change.”

“To be viewed as a Woman of the Year is really such an honor because the YWCA Bethlehem is an organization that means a lot to me,” Martinez-Howey said.

Nominees for the award are chosen based on their service to the community through volunteerism, fundraising, leading special projects or events or by being a community activist or an advocate for others.

“Marci Martinez-Howey was selected as a Woman of the Year thanks to the significant positive impact she brings in volunteering to make our community a better place,” said Virginia Oskin, YWCA Bethlehem Women and Teens Awards co-chair. “Marci’s commitment to the Lehigh Valley is exemplary, and we are proud to have selected her for the YWCA Bethlehem Woman of the Year Award 2021.”

Martinez-Howey’s first memory of giving back was in elementary school, when she participated in the annual St. Jude Math-A-Thon.

“I always rushed to get my math book completed and my pledges in because I wanted to help every child who was there,” Martinez-Howey said.

Martinez-Howey finds it impossible to choose the cause closest to her heart, though she cites children, education, housing, food and social justice as top contenders.

“I envision a community my children will be proud to grow up in - one that is equitable for all, one where everyone has the access to the resources they need to succeed, like education, healthy food options, a place to call home and a feeling of self-worth,” she said.

The list of organizations Martinez-Howey has worked with over the years is extensive.

When the pandemic struck, Martinez-Howey joined the strategic response team for the COVID-19 Community Response Fund. She reported the team distributed more than $675,000 to more than 60 local nonprofits and initiated Project Equity, with the objective of “building a more equitable and sustainable nonprofit sector.”

Having grown up in Allentown, Martinez-Howey did a good deal of volunteer work in that area, including working with the Allentown School District Foundation Board, Mercy School for Special Learning and Bank On Allentown. She also serves as treasurer for the Financial Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley.

Martinez-Howey’s work at UWGLV has also given her opportunities such as her role in Emerging Leaders, where she does everything from serving meals to wrapping presents for underprivileged youth for the volunteer center’s Holiday Hope Chests program. She is also part of United Way’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee and partners with The Lehigh Valley Synergy Fund.

Martinez-Howey also participates in the annual Habitat for Humanity She Nailed It event and helps at Habitat for Humanity build events.

She is the YWCA’s prom dress committee chair for 2021 and has been volunteering at the prom dress pop-up shop since 2014. One of the main missions of YWCA Bethlehem is the empowerment of women.

According to Martinez-Howey, the prom dress event is held each year to provide all girls with the chance to “feel confident and beautiful” for their high school prom.

Martinez-Howey said this cause is time sensitive, as the pop-up shop opens in April. Though it’s unknown whether schools will be able to hold prom this year due to COVID-19, she feels it’s still important to celebrate this milestone that Lehigh Valley junior and senior girls look forward to each spring.

One of the most heartwarming volunteer experiences she had was at her first time helping with the pop-up prom shop. A girl came in to look for a dress. After they helped her select a few, she went into the dressing room to try them on.

“It was evident by her mannerisms that she did not see in herself the beauty that those of us around her saw,” Martinez-Howey reflected. “After trying on a couple of dresses and not being happy, she came out of the dressing room in the most perfect red dress. If her smile from ear to ear did not say it all, the words that came out of her mouth next surely did.

“She looked in the mirror, looked at us and said, ‘I feel beautiful.’ There wasn’t a dry eye around,” she said. “It was at that very moment that I knew I would serve on this committee forever if I could.”

Though she is involved with multiple organizations and projects, Martinez-Howey said working for United Way makes it possible.

“I am volunteering even when I am working,” she said. “It is truly the best of both worlds.”

When she isn’t working, she tries to find causes she and her family are all passionate about. For example, her 15-year-old daughter sometimes helps serve meals, and her 23-year-old daughter has volunteered with her at the prom dress event. Her two younger children will help her as soon as they are old enough.

“What a great thing to be able to show your children - the importance of giving back, while still being able to spend family time together,” she said.

The 46th annual YWCA Bethlehem’s Women and Teens Awards will occur virtually 5 p.m. April 22. It will include award and scholarship winners, as well as a silent auction to support YWCA women and girls empowerment programs.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Marci Martinez-Howey, of Catasauqua, has been named the YWCA Bethlehem Woman of the Year.