Leading a Generation


Naara Martinez at a “White Coat Ceremony” as she takes her first steps into her college career. She’s currently a Senior at Elmhurst College.

Gretchen Baez


About 20 teenagers sit in pews in a church, surrounded by stain-glass windows. They’re greeting each other and waiting for their youth group leader to begin. A young woman walks in front of the pews. She is short with a round, light face framed by long, dark hair. She is smiling at the group in front of her, which is no surprise. The young woman is known for her smile, even if she’s angry. She smiles all the time. After a prayer, she asks the group for a review of the last week’s meeting and then lessons begin.

Round Lake High School graduate, Naara Martinez, 21, has been a youth leader for the past five years. She is now a young adult who understands most struggles that the youth today go through. With the desire to help those around the community of Round Lake, she does a lot of events with her small group of teens and she is now starting to see a positive effect

Starting as a teenager herself, being a youth leader is something she always enjoyed doing. Before, she used to attend to a youth group that she was invited to. After going to their weekly meetings, her desire to start her own group grew even more. With the support of her family and friends she got motivated to continue. Starting with only family, cousins and siblings, she got a feel for how it would be working with different teens. They met every Tuesday at 7 p.m. and did different activities together and along she would give a small message that would somewhat relate to the activities. Whether it was just going to the park or to the beach together, when a message was not planned, it would still be a great way to just spend time as a family.

After years of experience she got the hang of it and now has an official place to meet with her youth group under the name of Holy Nation. The group has continued to grow and now hosts approximately 25 people. “Over time I established a relationship with the group,” she said. She mentioned that it’s very important to gain the group members’ trust so they have the confidence to ask her for any type of advice. Her goal is always to help teens out, no matter the situation that they are going through.

Martinez agreed to an interview one Tuesday night after one of the meetings. With every question she responded thoughtfully and of course, always with that famous smile. Getting the chance to learn more about her and her process to become a leader sparked the realization that it wasn’t easy for her but she never gave up.

Martinez  mentioned how it wasn’t easy in the beginning because she didn’t know what to do. Once the group began growing with some of her high school classmates at the time, friends or not, many began showing up. It was difficult for her to find ideas that would get them involved. Although she found this difficult she never gave up. With the support of her mom and aunt, whom had experience when they were younger, they would always give her advice and ideas and would apply it.

Her experience of being a teenager has helped her understand most struggles youth go through today. Everyday there are teens not knowing what to do with their lives anymore and losing motivation to keep up with school. Because they lack the advice and the encouragement from someone to continue doing what is right, they risk following the wrong path and doing bad things that will negatively impact them in their future. For this reason, this youth group is mainly intended to support the ones who feel alone or just don’t know where they are standing in life. With the encouragement of the rest of the members, it makes one feel like they are around family.

“My faith has motivated me to continue with the youth,” she said. She believes that every teenager has the capacity to do anything in life. With the support of someone, they will feel more motivated to reach their goals.

As a full-time college student, part-time worker, and a youth leader, Martinez has found herself experiencing many hardships herself. Sometimes coming straight from school to the group makes it difficult to put a lesson or activity together for the members. Whenever she would come across this situation she would usually throw in a team building activity. “It creates unity and a closer bond with one another, even if the activity or project seems silly,” she said. She really enjoys how members remember previous messages from lessons and apply it to the activities themselves. This shows how their knowledge is expanding and their ability to see the positive side of everything.

Photo Provided
Holy Nation celebrates the birthday girl, Juana Rangel one Tuesday after one of their regular meetings.

Juana Rangel, a Junior at Round Lake High School, had joined this group just last year and she has found the trust in Martinez and the rest of the youth members to testify her past and how she’s grown in knowledge and in faith. “This group has had a great impact in my life because after I found my identity in Him [God], I was able to overcome all my problems,” she said. With the encouragement of her youth leader she felt the motivation to attend every week and become part of this group. “I really consider everyone here as my family because ever since the first time I came here I felt so welcome,” she said. “Naara is a really good person to look up to because not a lot of girls like her stand up for the youth to have a better life. By giving them advice and words of encouragement, I can see how God really uses her.”

Overall, Naara Martinez reflects on how working with the youth is very rewarding. She feels privileged to be able to work with them. “They are the backbone of each generation and it’s very important to guide them as we go so in the future they become stronger and they’ll be able to [lift each other up],” she said.  “A lot of the times people think that the youth are very irresponsible and stubborn but in reality they have a lot of potential.”  Her primary goal since the beginning was to help young people seek a spiritual growth. “This isn’t about just getting together to learn  but to grow together in faith,” she said.

After she finishes college she has the desire to attend an institute that will help her continue her passion for the youth, helping not only in the community but around the world.