San Ysidro Health’s Founding

Honored at the 2022 southwestern college commencement ceremonies

“If I could do it, you can do it too!”
San Ysidro Health’s Founding Mother, Carmen Martinez, Celebrates 99th Birthday & A Rich Legacy of Activism Still Felt Today

Strength, wisdom, perseverance, courage and love for the community are some words that only scratch the surface in describing San Ysidro Health’s remaining founding mother, Carmen Martinez. Born on September 25, 1923, she is a mother to her 7 children, a grandmother and a great grandmother to many more. This fearless leader still inspires today.

Carmen Martinez is one of seven founding mothers whose journey in search of medical services for their children gave birth to San Ysidro Health (SYHealth). These special women established “el Club de las Madres” and in 1969 opened the “Casita,” a little white house with only 2 rooms and 4 dedicated volunteers – the very first clinic in San Ysidro. At the time, health care services in the area were scarce and nearly unattainable. As the demand for services grew, so did the organization. Mrs. Martinez was involved in the hiring process for the first physicians to ensure they were committed to SYHealth’s mission.

Over 5 decades, SYHealth has evolved from a small clinic located along the border into one of San Diego’s largest and most well-respected nonprofit community health providers. Today the organization has 50 clinic and program sites throughout the county, providing innovative medical, dental, behavioral health and specialty care services to nearly 110,000 patients. SYHealth continues to grow to meet the region’s healthcare needs and is now providing care and support services in North County and Rural East County.

“We built a clinic for people in need,” Martinez shared with GB Magazine. “I had a dream of what it could become. I have no words to express the gratitude I have to God for allowing us to see this clinic the way it is today.”

Mrs. Martinez still lives in San Ysidro and is excited to celebrate her 99th birthday alongside her family and friends. And there are more reasons to celebrate! She was recently awarded Southwestern College’s honorary degree – Southwestern College’s highest honor during their 2022 Commencement Ceremony. The award cites her dedication, strength and courage to bring affordable healthcare to San Ysidro and the region.

Her goal is to inspire the next generation of supporters to continue the positive impact the organization has on patients and families across the county. “This work continues, and we need a lot of help,” she said. “If I could do it, you can do it too with lots of work and care.”

SYHealth’s future includes its largest development project to date: National City Health and San Diego PACE Center, a new state-of-the-art 40,000 square foot healthcare facility designed to holistically connect families, especially seniors and children with health services, affordable housing, transportation and community engagement in the heart of National City scheduled to open in 2024. SYHealth is grateful to this project’s strongest supporters: American Eye Associates, CFS Transportation, and Kafri Heart & Vascular Clinic.


Make a $99 gift today for children’s health in honor of our Founding Mother’s 99th birthday. Text BIRTHDAY99 to 41444.
For more information, email

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Esteban Villanueva