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Irvington's Abbott House Helped White Plains Barber Cut Brighter Future

Anthony Martinez of White Plains displays a piece of art he created when he formerly lived at Abbott House in Irvington.
Anthony Martinez of White Plains displays a piece of art he created when he formerly lived at Abbott House in Irvington. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kate Hope
Anthony Martinez, right, of White Plains joins master of ceremonies Meredith Viera in addressing supporters of Abbott House at its annual The Loving Arms Award dinner last month.
Anthony Martinez, right, of White Plains joins master of ceremonies Meredith Viera in addressing supporters of Abbott House at its annual The Loving Arms Award dinner last month. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kellyann Petry

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Anthony Martinez knows he’s one of the lucky ones. Nearly two decades after he resided at Abbott House in Irvington, the White Plains resident and business owner believes living there helped him find a job, a passion, and ultimately, himself.

  • Who : Anthony Martinez, of White Plains
  • What : A former resident of Abbott House in Irvington, he now owns his own barbershop in White Plains and coaches youth basketball
  • Learn more: http://www.abbotthouse.net/

“Coming from where I did in the Bronx, Abbott House saved my life,’’ Martinez said. “There was no one to help lead me the right way in the Bronx. Abbott House gave me something of a childhood, something I would never have had in the Bronx.”

Abbott House was founded in 1963 and aims to improve the lives of vulnerable children, adults and families. Initially, “Irvington House” focused on the care of children with chronic disease. Over time, it shifted its focus to embrace the cause of child welfare. Abbott House’s reach extends through the lower Hudson Valley and New York City, and serves nearly 7,000 people annually.

Martinez, now 37, came to Abbott House at age 7. His father died when he was 4, and his mother was sick and battled drug addiction. Anthony bounced between several foster homes in Queens and Harlem before living at Abbott House.

“I remember being really scared,’’ Martinez said upon his arrival. “It was my first time being away from home.”

Martinez slowly found his way into a routine, not too dissimilar to children from traditional families, with school, homework and chores. Martinez also discovered a passion for basketball and eventually continued playing at White Plains High School. “You just found your own routine, and survived in it,’’ Martinez said.

The key for Martinez, he said, was connecting with counselors who had the best interests of the children at heart. “They tried to make it as much like a home as possible,’’ Martinez said. “As a kid, you want to go home and be with your parents. Sometimes, parents came and their kids left with them. It bothered me. It kept me on edge for a while.”

Martinez said living at Abbott House for nearly 11 years helped him learn right from wrong. He also grew up far more quickly, and in a much safer environment, than some of his peers from the section of the Bronx where he first lived. “You have to have a sense of self,’’ Martinez said. “You have to survive on your own. A lot of my friends that I grew up with in the Bronx have gone to jail, some got killed. I lost touch with a lot of them. It’s just structure. Abbott House gave me a chance to look forward to something.”

Even after living at Abbott House, Martinez faced his own demons. He bounced around the streets of White Plains, doing odd jobs. He opened a barber shop in White Plains, MVP Barbers on Martine Avenue, earlier this year. He previously owned a different barber shop in White Plains for eight years.

Aside from his work, Martinez retains the passion for basketball that he discovered while living at Abbott House. He helps coach the New York Blaze, an AAU team based in White Plains for players ages 6-and-up. He’s trying to reach boys to help them follow their dreams, even after he gave up his own.

“I loved basketball, and used to play all the time,’’ said Martinez, a point guard. “I loved winning. When the game was tight, I tried to take over the game. I loved Kenny Anderson (a former NBA player with the Knicks and Nets). I thought I was going to be Kenny Anderson at one point. I stopped because I wanted to be the cool kid. When you are not loved the way most people are, you look for love in the wrong places.”

Martinez returned to the court when a friend asked him to help coach. The game takes Martinez back to his boyhood at Abbott House, where he learned life lessons and dreamed of a better life. He has found it, and he tells boys at Abbott House that while tough at times, the experience pays dividends down the line.

“I tell them you can’t change the situation, but you can make it worse,’’ Martinez said. “You have to accept it and become a better person. I had to learn the hard way. Eventually, things are going to work out. It’s a cruel world, and no one can prepare you for that. You have to make the best of the situation.”

For more information or to make a donation to Abbott House, click here to visit its website or contact Lauren Candela-Katz, director of development & communications, at Lcandela-katz@abbotthouse.net or (914) 409-0088.

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