Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Paladin Profile: Community Health in Underserved Communities

José Morales-Martinez ’18 shares his advocacy work after Furman, supporting students in Greenville County School system through a non-profit SC organization.
José Morales Martinez
José Morales Martinez ’18 working with a student in a Greenville high school.

After graduating from Furman, José Eduardo Morales Martinez ‘18 has applied lessons of mentorship and advocacy learned at Furman to the broader Greenville community. 

Morales-Martinez currently works in a Greenville high school as a Site Coordinator with Communities In Schools of South Carolina, a non-profit organization that provides integrated student support in Title I schools across South Carolina. His organization seeks to build relationships with students, identify barriers they are facing, and connect families with existing community resources. Morales-Martinez explained that many students come to school concerned about the worries their families may face at home. Communities In School aims to help students focus on learning by easing family struggles, so students can “come to school not worried about adult problems.” 

This work is not only philanthropic for Morales-Martinez – it relates to the challenges he experienced going through the public school system as an undocumented immigrant. Morales-Martinez was born in el Distrito Federal de México and immigrated to Greenville, SC when he was 4 years old. He obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status in 2012, his senior year of high school. Despite the challenges his family faced after immigrating to the U.S., Morales-Martinez’ mother encouraged him to “help others out and not expect anything in return, because it’s the right thing to do.”  

Morales-Martinez shared that the struggles he faced as an undocumented student greatly impacted him, and “shaped [him] into the person [he] is.” This experience also helps him relate to high school students by championing their interests and needs. Morales-Martinez reflected on his worries growing up, from fear of deportation or family financial concerns – and many of his students face similar challenges. “If I could help a student believe in themself after a small accomplishment or help a family get some relief,” Morales-Martinez elaborated, “it turns my work into something meaningful.” 

In addition to his work with Communities In Schools, Morales-Martinez is also involved with students outside of school. After serving as Head Middle School Soccer Coach at a Title I school for three years, he is now the Varsity Women’s Soccer coach for his current high school. Through this role, he focuses on using his love of soccer to help students develop not only into better athletes but also into better people. Morales-Martinez is also involved with Momentum Bike club as a bike mentor and has helped bring the organization to the high school where he works.  

Although his passion for caring for underserved communities began before college, Morales-Martinez’ time at Furman helped him better understand the world around him. He remarked on the opportunity given to him by Furman: 

“Due to my DACA status, I was not able to attend any state school. Since Furman was a private school, they took a chance on me, which led me to being a first-generation college graduate… The Furman professors saw me as another student wanting to learn to better themselves – instead of my non-legal status.”

While at Furman, Morales-Martinez majored in Health Sciences, exploring courses across different disciplines to better grasp determinants of health that often directly impact the students he sees in his work. 

In sum, Morales-Martinez used his experiences at Furman and – combined with his personal experiences – he uses his gifts to advocate for students who face similar challenges to those he experienced as a child. His journey is an inspiration for Furman students because he shows us that regardless of background or barriers, there is a path for success. His story also demonstrates that being a student at Furman means being surrounded with support and help understanding our vocational goals. Morales-Martinez’ story speaks to Furman students who are unsure of their paths and who are concerned about the obstacles in front of them. His message serves as a spark to reignite student passions to advocate for themselves and for others.

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