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Many Aggies might recognize Melissa Martinez as the friendly cashier who worked at Sbisa Dining Hall for several years. In the few seconds it took to swipe a card, she always asked each person, “How are you doing?” Eager for their meal, many students provided short responses. For Max Gerall ’18, however, her simple question of well-being became a daily conversation he highly anticipated.

Having just recovered from a serious illness, Gerall’s first few months at Texas A&M University were difficult. Unsure of himself and yearning for home, he came to consider Martinez as “Momma Mel.”

“She was the first person on campus to make me feel welcomed,” he said. “She was the beacon of light that got me through school.”

As their friendship grew, Martinez opened Gerall’s eyes to a population he calls “essential Aggies,” the essential workers who cook, clean and maintain Aggieland behind the scenes. In 2016, Martinez introduced Gerall to Maria Hernandez, another Sbisa employee whom he knew only as the woman who cooked delicious omelets. He was shocked to learn that Hernandez and her 10-year-old daughter were homeless. “She was looking after all these Aggies, but no one was watching out for her,” he shared. “I knew I needed to do something.”

The selflessness of Aggies has always been evident.
- Max Gerall ’18

The Research for REACH

For the next 18 months, Gerall learned as much as he could about essential Aggies. He was disheartened to learn of the immense struggles many faced, and as a young college student, he wondered what he and other Aggies could offer. “We had time, knowledge and a commitment to selfless service,” he expressed. “That’s how REACH started.”

REACH, which stands for respect, empowerment, aspiration, community and hope, began in 2017 as a nonprofit with a mission to provide mutually beneficial engagements between college students and the campus service workforce. In 2018, REACH hosted its first pop-up clinics and health and wellness fairs on campus, staffed by students from the Health Science Center.

In its first two years, REACH served more than 400 workers and their families. Supplementing REACH, the student organization AgsREACH was formed and partnered with BUILD, a student organization dedicated to building portable medical clinics, to construct a free campus health clinic for service workers. “The selflessness of Aggies has always been evident,” Gerall shared. “AgsREACH just connects an Aggie’s desire to serve with a community that truly deserves help.”

Cathy Robinson, a member of the REACH advisory board, oversees custodial teams for all Corps of Cadets dorms as assistant unit director.

Shared Transformation

Today, REACH has more than 400 student volunteers, interns, and faculty and community partners. With a focus on health and wellness, education and homeownership, REACH strives to eliminate social and financial inequities in college towns across the country, not just College Station.

Through a combined 200,000 service hours at Texas A&M alone, REACH has distributed 400,000 pounds of produce, raised $165,000 for COVID-19 relief, helped diagnose 65 essential workers with diabetes, launched 30 minority-owned businesses and provided 51 homeownership journey kits that have already helped six participants become homeowners. One day, Gerall hopes REACH will create a transitional housing community where families can invest in themselves and have access to integrated health and financial services.

While REACH prioritizes transforming the lives of essential campus workers, it also transforms student mindsets. One such student, Logan Miertschin ’22, was shy and reserved before getting involved with REACH and had chosen to study chemical engineering to secure a high-paying job. After working with the organization for a year, Miertschin forfeited the high-paying job he had secured after graduation to join the Peace Corps in Ghana.

“REACH trains future leaders to have the mindset of meeting families where they are and allowing those families to drive the solutions we provide,” Gerall explained. “Students’ eyes are opened to the world. When they graduate, they take their hearts of service and empathy with them.”

The fact that he asked what this community needed meant the most. Max has a heart that cares about everyone. He would reach out to help anyone, and he does every day with REACH.
- Cathy Robinson

Valued Voices

As REACH expands, it ensures that its programs reflect the needs of the community it serves through an advisory board composed of essential workers. Board member Cathy Robinson, who oversees custodial teams for all Corps of Cadets’ dorms as assistant unit director, met Gerall in 2018 as he was pulling a wagon around campus with oranges and water for workers.

Asking for her input on employees’ real needs, Gerall began talking about his desire to build a program to serve essential Aggies. “Max is a guardian angel,” Robinson shared. “The fact that he asked what this community needed meant the most. Max has a heart that cares about everyone. He would reach out to help anyone, and he does every day with REACH.”

Do you know an Aggie who serves selflessly like Max Gerall ’18? Send a note to our editor, Dunae Reader ’15, at the bottom of this page, and they could be featured in a future issue!

  • Dunae Reader '15

  • Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor
  • Call: 979.321.6343

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