Knowing the Nexties

1coverwebJacob Martinez, Monica Martinez, Jeremy Neuner and Mark Davidson top the list of creative innovators in Santa Cruz Next’s annual awards gala

Editor’s Note: With a motto like “inform, inspire and involve,” it’s hard not to appreciate the efforts Santa Cruz Next has been making locally to not only unite innovative minds, but also to foster a networking environment that allows those minds to possibly work together to create powerful changes in our local government and culture. It’s fitting then that Santa Cruz Next begins the new year with an awards gala that illuminates the work of four locals doing just that. As the third annual Nexties unfolds on Jan. 28, all eyes will be on the fab four who grabbed this year’s honors: Jacob Martinez, Monica Martinez, Mark Davidson and Jeremy Neuner. Oh, what a collection of passionate souls this foursome is. Jacob is creating a sea change among the Latino and tech communities; Monica is forging ahead to combat homelessness; Neuner is the enterprising man who helped launch NextSpace, and Davidson’s love of mountain biking has somehow transformed an entire sports community. As you peruse the following pages and learn more about these dynamic individuals, you’ll note that their commitment to strengthening our community is as impressive as it is inventive. Onward …

Jacob Martinez
Ask Jacob Martinez why he wanted to be an integral part of Watsonville Technologia-Educacion-Comunidad (TEC) Program, and you can hear his deep commitment to give back to the community in his reply.

“Latinos have the lowest rates of pursuing technology majors in careers, and Latinas, specifically, are the lowest,” he says. “I was a Latino studies major at UC Santa Cruz, and switched to science. And when I made that switch, I noticed that there were not many people like me in the sciences. So when I graduated, I had this interest of trying to increase minority representation in the sciences. And with that, engineering and tech was even less. That got my interest in this part of work.”

cover jacobThat was more than 10 years ago. But the seed was planted and fate took over. After being recruited for the local health nonprofit ETR Associates to help implement Girl Game Company (GGC), a unique program whose goal is to increase middle schoolgirls’ interest, ability and motivation to pursue education and also careers in information technology (IT), Martinez and some of his colleagues saw another opportunity. Like GGC, they wanted to provide the recreational, academic, familial and “psycho-social support” services necessary to encourage students to pursue higher education and careers in information technology.

“We stepped back and looked at how you really create long-term change for these youth, in terms of pursuing college and specifically technology,” he says of the impetus to launch Watsonville TEC. “You need to really look at all the different aspects of their life that they come into contact with. You have to do a lot of work with their parents, work with the school district, work with their teachers. You’re in the schools working with all these difference influences.”

That may seem like a daunting task but through constant engagement with PVUSD and working side by side with teachers individually, Martinez and his associates are changing the community of Watsonville’s view of technology and, really, technology education in their children’s lives.

It all starts with Martinez going to a classroom full of kids.

“On the first day I ask the kids, ‘When you tell people you are from Watsonville, what do people say about Watsonville?’” Martinez goes on, “And the first thing that comes out of people’s mouths, is either ‘strawberries’ or ‘agriculture,’ but right after that, kids usually say, ‘it’s boring, it’s violent, there are gangs.’ There’s this children’s perception of what other people think of their communities.”

But by the end of the program, which can last up to 12 weeks, the answers are very different.

“You hear these kids saying, ‘We’re good with technology, we know how to build a website, we can build computer games,’” he says. “And their language and their attitude around their community, and their perception of their community has completely changed. So we have given these kids an environment where it’s at the school.”

There’s no pressure in terms of testing. Students come into the program and Martinez exposes them to an access to technology they wouldn’t typically see. There’s a balance between participating in activities that are deemed “normal-use activities”—searching the web—but there’s also an educational element where things move beyond using tech to actually creating tech.

“Hopefully, it empowers them to see that, ‘I can do this, and I can do this well,’” Martinez notes.

Asked what surprises him most since the program launched in 2009, and he immediately cites the value that all the other schools saw in the program.

“When I started it, I understood the importance of it, but I wasn’t sure if the school district and the community did,” he says. “But they’ve shown me that it’s a big value; that there’s a high value of technology and education. Now we are serving 15 different schools, way above and beyond what we saw in our grant. And now the school district is pumping in resources to make this expansion happen.

About funding, Martinez points out that some of the biggest challenges faced is funding.  “We are down to our last year of our grant and school districts are committed to offering resources to help it continue,” he adds. “We have some grants out there that we hope we get, but the bottom line, if we don’t get some grants and funds, this program could disappear.”

Certainly not on Martinez’s watch.  | Charlie Price

Learn more about Jacob Martinez, ETR Associates, Girl Game Company and Watsonville TEC Program at etr.org

Monica Martinez
“I came to Santa Cruz because I’m really passionate about ending homelessness, and I feel like this community has all of the tools that it needs to do that,” says Monica Martinez, who arrived in town a year and a half ago to begin work as Executive Director of the Homeless Services Center (HSC).

cover monicaShe adds that providing soup, sandwiches and shelter helps to solve basic short-term needs, but it is not a solution to homelessness. with the right efforts and community input she thinks an end to homelessness is possible within her lifetime.

“When I say ending homelessness, people are like ‘Oh yeah, right, that’s not going to happen,’” says Martinez. “I think that it’s a vision to strive for. It’s about having smart strategies that practically move people from homelessness to becoming housed.”

Martinez has been working to mitigate homelessness since college. As an undergrad at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, she worked at a homeless outreach program for the mentally ill and ran a volunteer project for outreach to the local homeless shelter.

While developing her master’s degree in public administration, Martinez acquired a job at a drop-in day center with permanent supportive housing for homeless women living on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

“It was there that I really saw the potential of taking somebody who’s been chronically homeless, who has lived for 20 years on the streets—really, really hard streets—and giving them a roof, and then seeing them thrive,” says Martinez.

“We helped these women transition into mothers and grandmothers who dress beautifully, are able to celebrate holidays, have a community and build skills. These were people who, without this organization, would have died on a piece of cardboard in an alley. That’s when I said, ‘There’s something here. This is what I want to do.’”

Martinez says Santa Cruz’s manageable size, available resources, and passionate individuals make it a promising location for enhanced homeless services.

“There’s no reason we can’t be a model for ensuring that those who are most vulnerable in our community move into a home of their own permanently,” says Martinez.

In the short time she’s been with the HSC, Martinez has focused her efforts on cultivating community solutions.

“This community is often divided,” she says. “You’ve got people who think the more services that you provide, the more people will come here and just live off the system, and then you’ve got people who are like, ‘We should feed and feed and feed, and do whatever we can,’ … I’m saying to them both, ‘You have good points. You’re both coming from legitimate perspectives.’”

Martinez adds that all groups share one message: homelessness is a problem.

“If we all can just rally around the idea that homelessness is a problem, then we can all rally around a solution,” she says. “I think we all want people to live with a roof over their head and we all want people to have the highest quality of life possible.”

Martinez says an important step toward doing away with homelessness is building partnerships with unlikely allies. For instance, one of the HSC’s close allies is Take Back Santa Cruz, which is not a historical advocate of homeless services.

“[Take Back Santa Cruz] wants to see a crime-free, safe community as do I,” says Martinez.    

One project she has helped spearhead is a community services team.

“Our community has given so much to homeless services,” she says. “Part of our responsibility is to give back, so we’ve been doing community cleanups for months.”

Among the hundreds of hours of volunteer cleanups the Homeless Services Center enacted is that of the historic Evergreen Cemetery, building trails and performing maintenance.  Martinez says the cleanups give their homeless volunteers pride and a sense of ownership in the cleanups, while in turn giving back to the local community.

Martinez was surprised to receive an award so early on because, she says, her work is just beginning.

Among scores of initiatives she intends to manage is the HSC’s participation in a national effort entitled, “The Hundred Thousand Homes Campaign.”

The campaign sets out to locate the homeless people most likely to die on the streets of Santa Cruz, photograph them, and catalogue any mental or physical disabilities. These people are then ranked from number one most likely to die, to number two most likely to die, and so on.    

“And then you just say, ‘As a community we’re committed to housing the top 50 or 100 or 200 people,’” says Martinez. “Our services are really great and they meet a lot of needs, but … what I care about is what’s next. How are we going to get these people off the streets? Together we have all of the resources we need to do it, we just need to mobilize them the right way.” | April Short

Learn about Homeless Services Center at scshelter.org.

Mark Davidson
Mark Davidson has mountain biking on his mind. Big time. Talk to him and you can almost see the creative wheels spinning around. It’s all good—especially for Santa Cruz. As president of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) since 2004, Davidson has helped spearhead a number of initiatives that changed the mountain biking vibe locally.

cover markFor starters, Davidson and MBOSC have raised $41,000 over the past several years to assist government agencies in maintaining and developing recreational facilities for bikes. Most of this was done by hosting a number of events that revolve around mountain biking. The turnout has been strong and ushered in plenty of funding. That may be a huge feat, and an integral part of MBOSC, but when you add kids into the mix, you get the sense that Davidson isn’t just on a mission to get people to become more aware of how fun and effective mountain biking is, but that it can also be used as a powerful tool for a sea change.

“Mountain bikers like to have fun,” he says, “but the big part is the social component.”

Enter Trips for Kids Santa Cruz, the nonprofit Davidson also helped launch last year that focuses on providing at-risk youth, primarily age 13-17,  with positive outdoor experiences through mountain biking.

“A lot of kids have other options, like drugs, so at that age, they are looking for thrill-seeking things,” he says, “So far, we’ve done things like take kids from Watsonville to Santa Cruz County— we provide bikes, water, helmets, food sometimes, and we provide transportation. To act as mentors to these kids and show them the enjoyment of getting outdoors is very rewarding.”

Davidson’s passion for mountain biking started when he was a kid, growing up in Canada. He’d often trek out of his suburban lair and venture off on rides into the forest. After college, and marriage, his appreciation for mountain biking truly blossomed. In fact, after spending a number of years working in tech in Silicon Valley, he and his wife decided to move to Santa Cruz for one main reason: mountain biking.

“I love mountain biking because I love to get out into nature,” he notes. “I get exercise, but it doesn’t feel like exercise. It’s like a bird—I‘m flying through the terrain.”

Fortunately Davidson’s love of the sport is helping his local community, too.

“MBOSC allows me to engage that social aspect to a level of activism,” he says. “We’re all very passionate mountain bikers and we want to make change happen; to make the local mountain biking scene better. So I think a lot of people share the same values and want to help out. They look to me for ideas and leadership and I ask myself how can I make mountain biking better for all of us, so that everybody benefits—the community, the bike industry and bike shops, people, kids.”

He adds that mountain biking gives him the framework to pursue several big-picture ideas, and quickly points out why Santa Cruz stands out in the mountain biking world, especially economically.

“We have the world’s leading bike manufacturers located in our county,” he says. “I think we should be proud of our biking industry because they are producing world-class products on a global market.” | Charlie Price

Learn more about Mark Davidson, bike advocacy and MBOSC at mbosc.org.

Jeremy Neuner
Santa Cruz seems quite a long distance for an East Coast guy who began his career as a carrier-based helicopter pilot in the Navy only to go on to nab a master’s degree in business and government policy from, of all places, Harvard University. But there was just something about this idyllic hamlet that lured Jeremy Neuner and his wife, who was born and raised in the Bay Area, out to the coast for good in 2006.

cover jeremySure, Santa Cruz is good on the eyes, and the weather isn’t that bad either, but after a few years here, Neuner saw other facets of the town that some people may have been overlooking—mainly that the community is a curious kaleidoscope of talent—from artistic souls to tech-savvy geniuses. Why not offer these folks a hub in which they could gather, do individual or group professional work, network and more. Let’s face it, traditional 9-to-5 work was beginning to look so old school. More and more people were utilizing the benefits of working remotely. So, combining forces with then-mayor Ryan Coonerty, Caleb Baskin, chair of the progressive networking machine, Santa Cruz Next, Neuner co-founded NextSpace in 2008, coming on board as its CEO.

“We saw an opportunity to get something cool happening around innovation, technology, small business,” Neuner explains. “Rather than trying to get an outside force to catalyze that—hire people—we decided to do it  by other means. NextSpace started, in a lot of ways, as economical development.”

The idea was to allow those working in different fields—from technology, food and ag, sports and entertainment—to, basically, “co-work” alongside each other in the same portal. Some would rent out offices, others conference rooms and/or enjoy basic membership privileges of having access to the NextSpace lounge area, and other perks.

“There are so many interesting people in so many different industries here, and to have a place where that all comes together, really can highlight what is the best of Santa Cruz,” Neuner adds.

Things have shifted considerably since NextSpace opened. From about four members when the doors opened, there are about 250 now.

“We realized that the business that we were really in was serving what I call this aggregated workforce,” Neuner says. “By 2020, over 40 percent of American workers are going to contingent workers—freelancers, independent consultants. At the same time, big companies are downsizing their real estate portfolios, which is a huge cost for them. So, the idea of ‘work from wherever’ is growing. There’s this movement away from big companies to a workforce that is much more mobile, much more diverse.

“Once we made that realization, that that would be everywhere,” he adds, “we thought it would be interesting to have NextSpace in all the major markets around the country.”

On that note, NextSpace has definitely expanded, opening up doors in San Francisco not long after the flagship Santa Cruz location opened. Another NextSpace hit Los Angeles and San Jose last year. Perks for members include: 24/7 access; use of  conference rooms, ideal Downtown locations, ample opportunity to network with other creative beasts.

Neuner spends most of his time overseeing operations at the Santa Cruz outlet yet travels to other hubs to make sure things are operating smoothly. He still marvels at how unique Santa Cruz is, pointing out the city’s rich, diverse history of creativity and innovation; local companies that came out of Santa Cruz over the last 30 years like Odwalla, Plantronics and O’Neill.

Clearly, Neuner’s appreciation for Santa Cruz may be one of NextSpace’s winning ingredients.

“Without giving away the secret sauce, I think NextSpace works because in an age where faux connectedness—Facebook and Twitter. Those technologies have evolved way faster than human beings have evolved and human beings are social species—so I think, overall, as a society, we are really hungry for genuine connection. We like to sit down with each other.

“We’ve been described by one publication as LinkedIn For Real Life,” he adds. “And I think that real life part is real important. Just because you are my ‘friend’ on Facebook, doesn’t actually mean we are ‘friends’,  but there is something about sitting down, over a cup of coffee, face to face … We’ve evolved to get the  most out of those actions. People are really hungry for that. And that’s why I think NextSpace works.” | Charlie Price

Learn more about Jeremy Neuner and NextSpace at nextspace.us.

The Nexties take place at 7 pm Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Museum of Art & History, 705 Cooper St., Santa Cruz. To inquire about tickets, or learn how you could become involved in Santa Cruz Next, visit santacruznext.org.

To Top