“Books can create a world for you that you never thought was possible. If you told me 13 years ago that I’d be a humanitarian and a CEO, I would have looked at you and laughed. I thought I’d be in the hood forever. Books changed my life.”
Goldin Martinez was born in New York City’s Washington Heights to parents addicted to crack cocaine. They abandoned him at the hospital, leaving him to bounce from foster home to foster home for years.
Eventually, Goldin found a foster family he loved and who loved him. They wanted to adopt him. But suddenly, the state ripped out the rug from under him and sent him to a family member—who turned out to be an abuser.
That’s when Goldin stopped hoping. Hope just led to hurt.
“At 16, I told myself that I was going to be a statistic,” says Goldin. “I thought I would grow up to be a drug dealer and die in the streets—until my English teacher Ms. Wallace changed my life.”
Every day, Ms. Wallace scheduled independent reading time at the beginning of class. And every day, Goldin sat there fidgeting and staring into space.
One day, she’d finally had it. She told Goldin to get a book from the class library, but he said he didn’t like any of them. So Ms. Wallace reached into her bag and handed Goldin hers: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.
“I was hooked,” says Goldin. “I couldn’t put it down—to the point where when reading time was over, I snuck it under my desk to keep reading, and Ms. Wallace let me.
“After class, she told me I could keep the book. If she’d taken it back, I don’t know what I would have done. We never went to the library and couldn’t afford to buy books. I’m so grateful to her because that book was the turning point in my life.”
Goldin became a voracious reader—each new book leaving him more motivated and inspired to take control of his life.
Around that same time, Goldin was bullied for being a skinny kid. Inspired by the motivational messages in his books, Goldin decided to make a change. He went to his local gym, and the guys there took him under their burly wings.
Two years later, Goldin emerged fitter and more confident than ever. He wanted to help others experience that same kind of rewarding transformation, so he decided to become a personal trainer.
Personal training can be lucrative for pros like Goldin, and he could have just glided by on his new salary. But Goldin never lost that drive to give back and help others—he wasn’t satisfied with only helping people who could afford it.
In 2009, Goldin launched a free personal training initiative for kids at his local community center. He called the program Get Focused.
The first day, only one kid named Jorge showed up—after stumbling into the wrong room. Goldin convinced Jorge to stay, and he kept coming back. By week 6, he had stopped smoking and ditching school. Jorge’s friends took notice and joined the training sessions, too. By the third month, Goldin had a thriving sports club of 150 kids.
Over the next several years, Goldin evolved Get Focused to a city-wide initiative—organizing free fitness days for the community and developing programs for organizations across New York City.
But in 2015, Goldin got that feeling again. He wanted to do more.
“I wanted to do something that would combine all my passions together: fitness, literacy, and community service. I thought about the times in my life when I couldn’t even afford $5 for a book. That’s when it hit me… Wouldn’t it be cool if you could open a book and instead the price tag said, ‘5 pushups, 5 jumping jacks, and a sit-up?’”
From that day forward, Get Focused became a joint literacy and fitness initiative—where kids of all ages could pay for books with exercise. Personal trainers could volunteer their time, and they could even get parents involved, too, so they could model behavior for their kids.
Goldin left his job and devoted himself to the project full time. He collected thousands of donated books and lived as a nomad, staying on friends’ couches for two years as he poured all his money and time into Get Focused.
One day, Goldin’s friend suggested that he start a GoFundMe
to gather support from friends and strangers. Goldin agreed to give it a try, not knowing what to expect. That’s when the donations started rolling in.
quickly raised a few thousand dollars, giving Get Focused the push it needed to get off the ground. Now two years later, Goldin’s program has changed thousands of lives in New York, Boston, and Newark—and he hopes one day to offer Get Focused across the country.
To date, Goldin has partnered with local organizations to provide the program to schools at no cost. But Goldin’s new goal is to offer Get Focused to any school for free—whether or not they can secure a local sponsor. To make this happen, Get Focused relies on donations to their campaign.
In 2018, Goldin also hopes to partner with colleges — helping students get fit as they collect their textbooks for the new year — as well as publishers and libraries across the country. He is also planning ways to extend Get Focused’s impact beyond the event and help kids develop a lifelong relationship with reading and fitness.
Amid all this planning and organizing, Goldin still makes time to take part in every Get Focused event. His reasoning is simple:
“Too often, kids view fitness as punishment—a coach yelling at you, ‘Give me 20 laps!’—but we want them to realize it’s something to enjoy.
“I tell my trainers, ‘Don’t delegate—participate. You have to do it with them.’ Kids need role models who look like them. They need a big sister or brother. They want to follow adults, and it’s our responsibility to lead by example.”