Much of what Debra Martin has seen as executive director of the Compassion’s Foundation domestic violence shelter has not been pleasant.
“I saw black eyes, bloody noses, broken arms and broken legs and it’s heartbreaking,” Martin said. “But to be honest, the shelter needs someone with a lot less years and a lot less health problems than me.”
After having held this leadership position since May 2020, she has made the decision to retire. Its last day is September 30. She said it was appropriate that her position end in September, as she began her career as a lawyer there in September 2013.
“I feel like the character, John Coffey, in ‘The Green Mile,’ who says, ‘I’m the tired boss,'” Martin said.
When Martin took over as Executive Director, transitioning from being an advocate for the shelter, she had just had a hip replaced and had two knee replacements, a battle with breast cancer, rotator cuff repairs, dizziness and migraines as well as additional health issues. since.
She said she wasn’t exactly sure she was the right person for the job when former Compassion’s Foundation board chair Margaret West called in 2020 to see if she would be interested in the job. position of executive director.
“I walked in not knowing or having a clue what I was supposed to do,” Martin said. “I was upfront with her. I didn’t know anything about QuickBooks, but I learned enough to get my bearings. I do payroll, I write paychecks, but there’s still a lot that I don’t understand.
However, what Martin understood from the organization was how essential its services are to Magnolia and every other city in America.
“Every time I hear the news of a domestic partner killed it breaks my heart because somewhere, somehow, the person who was killed should have had information about what happened. ‘she could do,” Martin said. “Or maybe they had the information but chose not to use it. A person has to change that cycle and unfortunately sometimes they don’t.
Martin’s working life began when he was 14 and was Candy Striper for what is now Magnolia Regional Medical Center. She said the $1-an-hour job led to a Pink Lady job, but only after 500 to 600 hours of service.
She spent hours and also served as a pink woman.
Another memorable job was working the box office at the famous Cameo Theatre. Martin said she will never forget her boss, WP Florence, for her eccentricity and for managing a tight inventory of profits and pickles.
“You had to count the pickles – he was a maniac,” she said.
Martin attended Southern Arkansas University but did not graduate as she quit school, married, and had three children. Before that, she was pursuing a degree in business administration at SAU.
She then worked in what is now Newhaven Counseling and Health Services.
Then in 1982, she started working with the Office of Child Support Enforcement and spent 29 years in this profession.
After a short stint at the Revenue Office, and working for a bank, she began her role at Compassion.
She said one of the most frustrating parts of running the agency is finding enough money to do what needs to be done.
Significant cuts in federal and state funding resulted in the loss of two advocates, leaving the shelter with just two. To do the best job with clients, four lawyers are needed, she said.
She also said she would like the community to know more about Compassion and consider the work it does.
“I don’t know what it will take to raise awareness and care about someone being abused,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take. I don’t think people really understand the prevalence of domestic violence in Columbia County. It’s there and as long as we keep sweeping it under the rug, it’s going to stay that way.
Until a decision is made by the Compassion’s Foundation board of trustees as to who will take Martin’s place, Lacey Ogle, director of the shelter, will serve as interim chief executive. Ogle has been the director of the shelter for about two years and was a lawyer for three years prior to her position.
“I’ve served as interim CEO before and I’m familiar with the day-to-day operations of that position,” she said. “I am happy to serve as interim executive director until a permanent decision is made and from there we will see what the future holds. The shelter is an important part of my life and the work we do.
Martin is married to Dennis Martin and both are active in the Rodfathers of Arkansas Car Club.
Martin said she wanted to thank Walmart Supercenter, which recently donated $645 so shelter customers could choose clothing and other items of their choice. Brookshire’s also donated a $500 ration card. First Baptist at McNeil donated a picnic table, chairs and playground equipment.
Another donation she said the foundation has always appreciated was the monthly donation from Hilltop Baptist Church in Magnolia. She said the church is small but without fail they have always sent a donation to the organization.
Compassion board chair Amber Overholser said board and agency members wished Martin well.
“We thank Debbie for all of her service to the Compassion Foundation and the community at large,” Overholser said.
CLICK HERE to donate to Compassion’s Foundation or to learn more about the non-profit organization.
People can also call 870-235-1415.