Karen Martin was an Alex Smith Foundation volunteer extraordinaire. To remember her and her lifetime passion for improving the lives of foster kids, we have established a scholarship in her honor. It will benefit foster kids and former foster kids by helping them further their education.


karenmartinKaren was an exceptionally dynamic woman, who lived her life with such passion, inspiring hundreds of people and ultimately impacting an entire child welfare system. Anyone who met Karen knew she worked in the tough arena of child welfare. When she last worked for the County of San Diego, she oversaw child welfare field operations, a position that emphasized foster youth placement as a linchpin to child and family well-being.

Work in this field wasn’t just a job for Karen. It was her passion. Maybe it was her calling. Karen had the skill and heart to deliver direct services and the vision to see how the child welfare system could be improved. She also had the passion, ability and work ethic to lead many of these significant changes. There are endless examples of Karen’s significant legacy of achievements. Some were not temporary, or one of a kind, but the types of systemic or organizational changes that effect the way that services are provided by all staff and continue to change life outcomes. Those achievements in her short time with us will continue to prompt memories of her.

Karen spent many hours volunteering for the Alex Smith Foundation Guardian Scholars program. She cared about and mentored the former foster youth in the program to help them overcome the obstacles in obtaining a college education. She had a “whatever it takes” attitude to help and support them—they often had nowhere else to turn. Her belief in them, and the countless things she did to support them, contributed significantly to the success of these scholars. Karen understood the power of education and that regardless of childhood maltreatment, education is a child’s key to personal success, self esteem, and hope.alexnoPole

Karen was an exceptional person. She was recognized for her commitment to making a difference in child welfare. Karen lived in California and passed away at age 44. She was thrilled that this scholarship would be established in her honor. We are all trying to “pay it forward” as Karen taught us all to do.

Donations to this scholarship fund can be sent to the Alex Smith Foundation, “Karen Martin Scholarship Fund” 4665 Gaviota Ct. Bonita, CA 91902


First Karen Martin Scholarship Recipient: Sade Burrell

Sade was a former Alex Smith Foundation Guardian Scholar. She was mentored and supported by Karen and they were very close. Sade not only graduated from San Diego State University but she is in the final year of completing her master’s degree from the University of Southern California in Social Work—in essence, she is paying it forward. Sade is the mother of two young children. Karen would be very proud of her and her selection as the first recipient of the Karen Martin Scholarship.


In Sade’s words:

“When I was 12 years old I entered the foster care system. I was devastated with having to accept staff members as parents and other foster youth as brothers and sisters. I naturally rebelled in anger and resisted building meaningful relationships. I continued to resist building relationships even after emancipating from the system.

In 2010, I applied for the Alex Smith Foundation Scholarship and I was chosen to receive the scholarship. I assumed it was a scholarship and nothing more, but then I met the people who were involved in foundation and it was more than I could ever ask for. When I received the call that I would have the Alex Smith Scholarship I jumped for joy and screamed with excitement. A few minutes later the woman on the phone said, “Welcome to the family.” I had never heard those words before, but since being part of the Alex Smith Foundation, that’s exactly what I’ve experienceda family. In 2012, my Alex Smith family watched me as I walked across the stage to receive my bachelors degree in 2012. Without my family, that wouldn’t have been possible.

Being a recipient of the Alex Smith Foundation means you gain a family and in our family was Karen Martin. Karen taught me what it was to have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, with no strings attached. She loved me because of who I was and not because of what I’ve overcome. Karen taught me how to open up and love. She taught me what a meaningful relationship was. She taught me that a meaningful relationship will carry you through the hard times and will celebrate with you in the good times. Karen is the reason I’m now completing my last year of graduate school at the University of Southern California. She told me USC would offer me opportunities no other school would and she was right.

I’m currently an intern with Child Welfare Services and I’m an intern for Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. I’m able to have these opportunities because of the advice I was given by my mentor, Karen Martin. Karen would always encourage me to pay it forward and since the day she’s asked me to, I’ve dedicated my life to living out the only thing Karen has ever asked of meI’m paying it forward.”

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