Laura Martis sought some additional role models for her son. Both the preteen and real estate executive found that, and a lot more.
EXECUTIVE: Laura Martis is the luxury division director for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group, a real estate company that also offers relocation and property management services. She moved to Sarasota from southern Illinois about seven years ago, and now lives and works in Tampa.
DIVERSION: Martis, along with her 12-year-old son, Ethan, is a member of the Sea Cadet Corps, the U.S. Navy's nonprofit youth training and leadership development program. She signed up as an adult volunteer officer in the organization, with objectives that include teaching seamanship skills and good citizenship. Cadets receive hands-on training related to a variety of career paths. (Prior to joining the Sea Cadets, Martis and her son volunteered for five years at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, an animal rescue organization in Sarasota, where they trained bears.)
BOYS WILL BE BOYS: Martis, 31, has been a single mother for most of Ethan's life and says she wanted him to be able to spend more time with male role models. So she was thrilled by his interest in becoming a Sea Cadet.
“It's similar to the idea behind the Boy Scouts — developing the young people in our community and preparing them for jobs, building their options for the future,” she says.
Martis heard about the program from a friend who serves in the Navy. “I mentioned to her that I have been a single mother for 12 years and that my son needs positive male role models. I like tools and trying to fix the car, the few things I can do. I love sports. But I also like dresses and makeup, and my son, he wanted a guy around, and I wanted that for him too.”
MOM IN UNIFORM: Martis discovered the Sea Cadet Corps, which also welcomes girls and young women, was in need of adult female volunteers. She signed up to become an officer in the program. “Just being a woman and joining is a benefit to them,” she says. “It's something they've been wanting.”
Sea Cadets go on international trips — last year it was Russia; this year, Italy — and Martis says women officers are in high demand as chaperones for female cadets. “We do have other women volunteers, but they definitely need more,” she says. “My marketing background and connections within the community have been a big assist, already, in getting the word out about this incredible youth opportunity.”
ON THE FRONT LINES: Mother and son have shared unique and unforgettable experiences with the Sea Cadet Corps. On Dec. 2, they boarded the SS American Victory, a World War II-era U.S. warship berthed in Tampa's Channel District that doubles as a museum, and took part in drills and exercises on Tampa Bay as part of the ship's annual holiday cruise.
“My son has been able to join in on things that most adults will never get to do in their entire lives,” Martis says. “He has taken a flight in a C-130, the largest military cargo plane; he's learned rescue swimming from Navy SEALs; he's learned how to navigate through swamplands with Army veterans. They even had NCIS agents come in and talk about crime scene investigations.”
Before Laura Martis volunteered for the Sea Cadet Corps, partially to do an activity with her son, Ethan, the mother-son duo, from 2011 to 2016, spent nearly every Sunday afternoon working with the bears at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota.
They didn't enter the enclosures but were just a couple of feet away from the likes of Buck, a towering, 1,400-pound Kodiak bear. They taught the bears how to sit and stand on command and wave hello, among other behaviors. They also answered questions posed by visitors.
Martis and Ethan no longer work directly with the bears, but Martis continues to help the sanctuary with marketing efforts on a volunteer basis.