Two Alumnae Making Big Community Impact at Healthy Start Coalition

Meet two Saint Leo University alumnae who are making a big community impact in their roles with the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas County, FL.

Tags: Alumni Bachelor of Social Work Core Values Psychology Psychology Careers Psychology Degree Saint Leo Alumni Saint Leo University Core Values Social Impact Social Work Social Work Careers Social Work Degree University Campus
12 January 2023 - By Greg Lindberg
A photo of Mary Martinez-Drovie and Maria Dacosta, two Saint Leo University alumni, dressed in Saint Leo gear standing next to a Healthy Start Coalition sign where they both work; both are holding Saint Leo tumblers as well, and both have gone on to rewarding careers in helping professions

Mary Martinez-Drovie and Maria Dacosta are making a big impact in the community through their current roles with the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas County, FL. They both say their Saint Leo University degree programs in social work and psychology helped catapult them to rewarding careers in a helping profession.

Martinez-Drovie, 42, is a native of Cleveland, OH where she grew up. She and her husband, Mike, live in Palm Harbor with their two dogs, Chubbs and Shelby, and three cats, Diego, Carmen, and Bentley. Dacosta, 49, was born in New York City but has spent much of her life in Florida. She and her husband, Antonio, reside in Largo. They have a 26-year-old daughter, Angela, and 22-year-old twins, Anthony and Gabriela.

Their Unique Journeys to Saint Leo University

A head shot of Mary Martinez-Drovie, an alumna of the Saint Leo University Bachelor of Social Work degree program who has gone on to a successful career in the helping professions; she currently works for the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas County, FL

For Martinez-Drovie, she came to Saint Leo University right out of high school.

“I had moved down to Florida with my parents after my dad retired from Ford,” she says. “Saint Leo gave me several scholarships and grants and made my higher education affordable. I liked the fact that it was a smaller university. I really liked how it had the Grotto across the street where I could go to meditate, and with Lake Jovita and so many trees just made it a beautiful campus.”

Dacosta was an adult learner, initially earning her associate degree from St. Petersburg College at age 29. She then transferred to Saint Leo to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Choosing Majors in the Helping Professions

Martinez-Drovie enrolled in 1999 as a freshman. She opted for the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree program.

“Social work was always part of my life,” Martinez-Drovie says. “My parents modeled the behaviors of serving others quite well. I also had a social worker who was my speech pathologist in elementary school. I wanted to follow the path of serving and advocating for others, especially in the Hispanic community since I’m part of that heritage.”

Dacosta decided on a BA in psychology degree.

“I was always drawn to psychology,” she shares. “I would read books on psychology for fun. Saint Leo offered a social psychology program and a variety of classes.”

Positive Experiences on Two Different Educational Paths

As a traditional college student, Martinez-Drovie made the decision to live on campus for much of her undergraduate career.

“For me, it was important to live on campus to build relationships with my fellow students and professors,” she explains. “I was involved in the Social Work Club, and I would volunteer at different events anytime I could.”

She also got a chance to work in the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library and for the Student Financial Services team. In the classroom, she fondly recalls Drs. Cindy Lee and Marguerite McInnis, two social work professors she had in the program.

“Those two were very influential in the path I took in my career,” she says. “They inspired a lot of passion in me to pursue this field.”

A head shot of Maria Dacosta, an alumna of the Saint Leo University psychology degree program who has gone on to a successful career in the helping professions; she currently works for the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas County, FL

She completed the Bachelor of Social Work program in 2005.

In her psychology degree program, Dacosta took classes both on campus and online. She enjoyed her coursework and the fascinating areas she got to explore within the psychology realm.

“I took a lot of interesting classes in this program,” Dacosta recalls. “I remember one of our classes in which we talked about the eyes, eardrums, and other body parts and how they are all connected to human psychology.”

She also took a religion course and, as a Catholic, says she liked learning about some historical aspects of her faith. She polished off her psychology degree in 2009.

Memorable Saint Leo University Core Values

In terms of core values, Martinez-Drovie points to community as the most memorable one for her.

“The University Campus community made me feel like I was never alone,” she says. “I always felt like I was part of the community, and I got so many opportunities to help support and represent that community.”

For Dacosta, she gravitates toward integrity and respect.

“I am committed to leading with integrity and respect in all I do,” she says.

Words of Wisdom from Two Experts

Dacosta offers up some valuable insight into how she succeeded as an adult learner having to balance motherhood and work.

“I had three children and worked several part-time jobs on and off,” Dacosta says. “There were times we had a party, and I had to be in another room studying. Sometimes I had to write papers late at night when the kids were going to sleep. Just know that you can do it if you put your mind to it. It’s so worth it to get your education and keep going.”

Martinez-Drovie agrees that earning a higher education is so valuable, regardless of one’s age when pursuing it.

“Going to school is about learning and growing as an individual,” she says. “Remember that getting your education is something nobody can ever take away from you.”

Demonstrating ‘What Matters on Mane Street’

A photo of Mary Martinez-Drovie, Maria Dacosta, and Julia Sharp receiving their award and swag bags from Dr. Mark Gesner, vice president of Community Engagement and Communications at Saint Leo University, for placing first in the ‘A Solution That Matters’ category of the ‘What Matters on Mane Street’ social impact competition held by Saint Leo in 2022

The two ladies had a chance to engage with their alma mater for a unique project last year. Along with Julia Sharp, a community development coordinator at Healthy Start, the three entered the What Matters on Mane Street contest, a social impact competition put on by Saint Leo with numerous community sponsors and partners. Martinez-Drovie, who is actively involved in the Saint Leo University Alumni Association, explains how this opportunity came to fruition.

“At one of our alumni leadership meetings, the idea of this competition was brought up,” she says. “I knew Maria was also an alumna, so I thought, ‘Why don’t we do this together?’ We partnered with Julia who has lots of experience designing presentations and videos.”

The group placed first in the category of “A Solution That Matters.” And what was their prize? They received a $1,000 grant for Healthy Start, a swag bag, a trophy, and an opportunity to participate in the Social Enterprise Accelerator Program.

“We were so surprised and excited when they announced we had come in first place in our category,” Martinez-Drovie says. “This was a great platform for Saint Leo to showcase how their alumni are everywhere in the community. Plus, opportunities like this help us stay current and help put us on the map because a lot of people still don’t know about the Healthy Start Coalition. It helps to support our mission of promoting healthy pregnancies, babies, families, and community partnerships.”

Their Career Paths Colliding at the Healthy Start Coalition

Martinez-Drovie began her career in the hospitality industry. Since then, she has held roles in K-12 and higher education settings. These include two stints with Saint Leo University totaling eight years, both of which were in the Graduate Admissions office.

As part of the Bachelor of Social Work degree program, Martinez-Drovie interned with Healthy Families Pasco. It was this position that confirmed her passion for the social work field.

“This internship opened my eyes to the struggles so many people go through and what families really need,” she says.

Over the years, she has served the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Child abuse Council, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Family Support Network, and the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County.

“I love looking at the big picture and putting an action plan together to help find solutions to challenges in the community,” Martinez-Drovie explains.

Her current role is with the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas County working as a program manager for coordinated intake and referrals.

Dacosta has also spent many years in helping professions. She worked at the Salvation Army connecting individuals to opportunities to complete community service work for probation. She later spent time with Operation PAR, a drug treatment facility where she assessed clients for programs. She came to Healthy Start about a decade ago.

“I started out working in the Mom Care program calling mothers to inform them about Medicaid and other resources. I then moved up to become a contract coordinator. I now work as a contract manager in which I enforce contracts and work on quality improvement.”

Community Service Off the Clock

In their spare time, both women continue to wear their community servant hats. Dacosta has mentored students enrolled in Pinellas County Schools. She has also helped in donation efforts for children in need of food.

For Martinez-Drovie, she has given lots of time to the Saint Leo University Alumni Association. She is also a member of the National Association of Social Workers’ Tampa Bay chapter. Plus, she loves cleaning up beaches when she gets the chance.

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Mary Martinez-Drovie and Maria Dacosta and are used with permission.