Jen Martinez remembers the days when kids could bike around what is now Morningside and not even think twice about the traffic.
It’s her old stomping ground, she says—growing up on St Luke’s Road, across from what is now the library end of the mall.
‘These are the streets I used to bike around as a kid, back when kids just got on their bikes and hung together. I’ve got a nine-year-old daughter and I don’t think I’d let her just ride around the neighbourhood these days.
‘St Luke’s Road was very different back then—we knew everybody, we knew the dairy owner. There was a big Samoan family in the big house which is now a kindergarten, and a Maori family, and then us. We had no fences, so we grew up together.’
Jen was born in Auckland. Her parents, both Filipino, had been in Beirut for 10 years, where her dad was an architect. It was during a visit to an uncle in NZ that her mum discovered she was pregnant with Jen.
‘They wanted to get away from what was going on in Beirut, so we ended up staying here. Dad ended up working for a big construction company which built a lot of buildings down Queen Street and Grafton.’ From an early age, Jen belonged to the Catholic Marist movement. She went to Marist primary and Marist College Mt Albert, so in some ways it’s no surprise she now heads up the Marist Youth Development organisation,The Logos Project.
But her journey wasn’t always headed in that direction. From a young age her passion was food. Some of her earliest memories are of making a mess in the kitchen and driving her mum crazy.
‘When I was about 10 or 11 my mum actually bought a Muffin Break franchise. So I would help out on the weekends and clear the tables in Milford with all the retired grannies. That was cool. I got behind the scenes there and worked part-time for mum while I was at school.’ By year 12 Jen knew she was going to pursue chefing and hospitality. But after spending a year in Queenstown, instead of doing a European OE, she ended up living with friends in a Catholic intentional community for young adults in Epsom.
It became a turning point.
‘I was quite hesitant about it because I was like, is this a cult or what? But I moved in and ended up living there for four years.’ It wasn’t just about living there. It also involved helping run a kids’ camp, then cooking for a camp, to being on the committee, and then leading the group that runs the camp. At the same time, a Marist priest who ran Logos made contact and invited Jen into youth work. Just shy of 21, she joined Logos and has been with them for 14 years. Jen is now CE of the organisation.
‘I was asked to come into this role to be a visionary leader, not a managerial type leader, to help bring Logos forward into the future. ‘Logos is very much a community before it is an organisation. I would say Crave is like that too—it’s more a community before it’s a cafe. I think part of the reason why I’m so attracted to his place [Crave] is because this would have been the ultimate dream in my chefing days.’
As a visionary leader, conversation with Jen ultimately gravitates to the future—not just of Logos, but also of the Catholic church as a whole. She acknowledges its troubles and its scandals, and suggests that the church needs to rise up from the ashes and become what it was always called to be.
‘The reason why I am still where I am is because I have sat with many people, I’ve been listening to lots of stories and there is something that’s happening—I’m walking with a community of young adults who are extraordinary, and they will become even more extraordinary in the next five to 10 years. We need spaces like Logos, we need spaces like Crave, places that are forming and growing and encouraging and really supporting these people.’