Alma Martinez Torres was given the opportunity to pursue her dreams, and has realized them by becoming an optometrist, due in part to a scholarship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon Branch.
Martinez Torres attended Magnolia Elementary School in Oakdale until her family moved to Riverbank when she was in the fourth grade. She received the AAUW scholarship when she graduated from Riverbank High School in 2004.
“Throughout school, I used that scholarship money to help pay for undergrad,” Martinez Torres said. “…I come from a family who emigrated from Mexico. My parents didn’t have the money to help me through school.
“It’s hard when your family wants to help you but they can’t. I’m very thankful to everyone who helped my dream become a reality. There are a lot of kids in high school who want to follow their dreams but don’t have the financial support from their families.”
She said the various community scholarships she received, including the AAUW scholarship, gave her the opportunity to go to a four-year university to pursue her dreams.
“This is why, we as members, do what we do,” said local AAUW member Cheryl Brunk. “Things come to fruition. People benefit from the scholarships.”
Brunk reported that the mission of AAUW is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. AAUW is a community working together for the common goal of breaking through educational and economic barriers for women and girls, she said.
“I always knew I wanted to be an optometrist since grammar school,” Martinez Torres shared.
She needed glasses at that time and met Oakdale optometrist Dr. Tom Mihok.
“I think I told him I wanted to be an optometrist and he encouraged me,” she said.
She said that Mihok wrote her letter of recommendation for school, was her mentor, and she served her undergraduate internship in his office. Martinez Torres received her Doctor of Optometry degree in 2013 and now sees patients in Mihok’s office.
“I always wanted to come back and give back to my community,” she said. “I think there’s a big gap to be filled. I speak Spanish.”
She explained that as a child, only her father spoke English and she would translate for her mother during doctor visits. She said sometimes it was scary for her and her mom in having that responsibility.
She can now serve the Hispanic community and have conversations with them in Spanish, without needing a translator, about their eye health.
“That’s been my dream,” she said.
Brunk said that she learned about the success of Martinez Torres because she’d gone into Mihok’s office and asked him if he had brought in a partner. She was happy to hear that AAUW had played a role in helping Martinez Torres achieve her educational goals and now it’s come full circle with Martinez Torres helping others in the community.
Martinez Torres said she’s glad that the AAUW is happy with the results of their help and that it’s exciting for her, too.
Brunk added that Martinez Torres will be attending the local AAUW branch’s upcoming annual Film Matinee Fundraiser on Sunday, Oct. 13 at Galaxy 12 Theatres, Riverbank. Doors open at 4 p.m. Tickets are $25. This event is AAUW’s primary fundraising event for the year and enables them to fund Tech Trek, a math and science camp for girls entering the eighth grade; college scholarships like the one awarded to Martinez Torres, Speech Trek, extemporaneous speech contest for high school students; and AAUW Educational Foundation.
The matinee fundraiser evening includes hors d’oeuvres, wine, opportunity drawing themed baskets, silent auction, oral auction, ticket stub drawing, and featured film “Buck.” For ticket information, contact matinee fundraiser chairperson Jane Griffith at 840-0354.
The movie is described as a “truly American story about an unsung hero, Buck is about an ordinary man who has made an extraordinary life despite tremendous odds.”
“‘Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will.’ So says Buck Brannaman, a true American cowboy and sage on horseback who travels the country for nine grueling months a year helping horses with people problems. Buck, a richly textured and visually stunning film, follows Brannaman from his abusive childhood to his phenomenally successful approach to horses. A real life “horse-whisperer,” he eschews the violence of his upbringing and teaches people to communicate with horses through leadership and sensitivity, not punishment. Buck possesses near magical abilities as he dramatically transforms horses – and people – with his understanding, compassion and respect. In this film, the animal-human relationship becomes a metaphor for facing the daily challenges of life.”
The 1998 film, “The Horse Whisperer” starring Robert Redford, depicts the life of Brannaman.
The Oakdale Branch of AAUW was chartered in April 1962 and will be celebrating its 52nd year in April 2014. Membership is open to people who hold an associate degree or higher. There are three ways for graduates to get involved with AAUW: join a local branch, join as California member at large, or join as a national member. Students working toward a qualifying degree may become student affiliates. The local branch serves the communities of Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon.