By John McGreevy, TJJD Communications

Lucinda Martinez will tell you straight away that the best part of her job is that it’s different every day.

“It never gets boring,” says the 12-year veteran Team Leader at Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood. “I love my job and I enjoy helping children. It can be tough at first to work as a correctional officer or Youth Development Coach, but you just have to make a positive bond, learn about each one of your youths. You can have fun with them. Most of the time we have a great day.”

Photo of youth and staff enjoying a zumba class.
Those activities vary: playing basketball, board games, art classes, outdoor activities, making homemade ice cream, and recently she added Zumba to that list. That’s right: Zumba.

Martinez has found leading Zumba classes to be an effective way of helping the youth in her care to have fun and get exercise during their free time. She’s been a certified Zumba instructor for 10 years but it wasn’t until last fall that she brought that skill to work.

“I love to dance, but I was a young mom and I live in a small town, so there weren’t a lot of places to dance,” she said. A friend suggested they go to a local fitness center to take a Zumba class. “They had the party lights on, they had big mirrors, it had a club feeling, they had music I liked. I just fell in love with it.”

Zumba is a fitness program built around dancing to the rhythms of salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and cumbia. An average session runs for an hour. Initially, because of coronavirus restrictions, the classes were held in the dayrooms of each dorm, but in January they were moved to the gym.

“The girls are at that stage where they’ll say ‘I don’t know how to dance but I want to’ and I said, 'We should do some Zumba.' I got it approved to do it, so I brought in my phone and we did a class along with the playlist and they loved it.”

Every female dorm at the facility has participated and the girls are always asking her when she’s going to have the next class. “It’s a way to teach them how to dance, and it’s easy. It’s got the music that they like.” She says reggaeton is especially popular with them. “It’s a workout party. You dance and you work out. We use our abs, our legs, and our arms. The girls are laughing, having fun. They’re learning different music and coming out of their shells.”

The girls’ enthusiastic response to these classes has been gratifying, but it’s not the only thing she loves about her job. Over the years she says there have been youths who have found her on Facebook “just to tell me thank you and that I helped them so much,” she said. “I have letters hanging on my walls in my office from youths telling me they will always remember me and how I'm their ideal, thanking me for keeping them in line and on the right path. Knowing that is all that truly matters to me. Knowing I made a difference in a child's life.”