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Marietta Arce: Pillar of Atenas

 

Have you ever met someone and wanted to learn more about them? After my first meeting with Marietta Arce, over a one hour coffee turned two, I was left wanting more. I had not said all I wanted to say to or heard all I wanted to hear from this dynamic woman. 

 

Marietta is a fireball packed into a petite package, full of life, spilling over with energy and enthusiasm that are contagious. She is someone you want to be with because you feel better after your encounter; inspired and full of hope. An eternal optimist, giver, and all around problem solver, Marietta’s impact on our small community of Atenas has been extensive.  

 

Born in San Jose, Marietta and her family moved to New York when she was eight years old. Marietta says as a family their experience in the U.S. was not like many immigrants because her father was transferred to the U.S. by the company he worked for at the time.  “We never had problems like many immigrants have. We started school right away and went to the U.S. with our green cards”. Neither Marietta nor her siblings spoke English but her parents had high standards for their children and her parents were  emphatic that they learn English. It took only six months and they were fluent. Between the ages of 8 and 17 the family only returned to Costa Rica once when Marietta was 12.  She says this was difficult because she was very close to her grandmother and extended family in Costa Rica.  

 

Having missed Costa Rica through the years, Marietta’s parents gave her a life changing gift for her graduation from high school; a summer trip to Costa Rica. Marietta stayed with her beloved grandmother in San Jose, and that summer vacation turned into a 10 month stay. During that time she studied for six months at the Centro Cultural in Los Yoses.  However, at the urging of her grandmother, she returned to New York to be with her parents and siblings. There she found a job, her independence, and began studying at night. I could see by the look in Marietta’s eyes and the inflection in her voice, that her real longing was to have stayed in Costa Rica. Marietta married her first husband and 6 years later, they moved to Puerto Rico. They later divorced and she returned to New York, where she went back to work at the firm she had left.  Marietta later went on to study Industrial Psychology at Baruch College. She then married her  husband, Scott, who had been a friend and coworker for 13 years.

 

Marietta and Scott came to Costa Rica on their honeymoon (Scott’s first time in the country), and he fell in love. Having been born in Hawaii and spending his last two years of high school there, Costa Rica reminded him of the island state, but of a Hawaii 50 years earlier. The couple started a family and Marietta would return to her beloved Costa Rica every six months for a visit. Upon one of her visits to Costa Rica, Scott suggested that Marietta look for a place to purchase property, thinking in terms of their retirement. They found Atenas by coincidence. Marietta’s childhood nanny was from Atenas, and she always looked forward to returning to the small mountain town to be with her family on the weekends. One day in early 1993 Marietta’s parents jumped on a bus and explored the area and found a bulletin posted in town where a local Realtor was advertising lots for sale. Marietta and Scott ended up buying not one but two lots in Atenas. It would take a few years but Marietta knew she wanted to be back living in Costa Rica. 

 

In 1998, fate opened a door when Marietta found a flyer advertising a Waldorf-inspired school in Heredia. She went and checked out the school and liked what she saw and the idea behind the school. Another big incentive was the high cost of education back in New York, some $50,000 per year in tuition for their children. She said there were other things bothering her, too. She missed the “green” of Costa Rica and living in the city was not ideal for a family. The family lived on the 31st floor of an apartment building and sometimes would have to wait 15-20 minutes for an elevator. “I wanted to open my front door and be outside”, and she adds, “I have to have green around me”. Marietta says, “At that point I made up my mind that the next year we would move to Costa Rica.” So, on June 26, 1999 they did just that, moved to Costa Rica.

 

Marietta is very involved in the local community and is always working on a project. I wanted to know where that need to be involved in the local community comes from.  Marietta responded quickly, “From my mother. Our family was always active in community work because my mother was a social worker. My mother was very good at creating groups. She had a talent and gift and felt she must use it. I absorbed that from my mother. I feel you need to be involved. I need to be involved.” When they first moved to Costa Rica, Marietta was involved with the children’s schools, eventually becoming president of the PTA. “When we started building our house in 1999 I was hands on. I got to know the people of Atenas, at the Municipality, ICE, and hardware stores. I made friends and connections. I would question things, and be given excuses, and always joke that when I am mayor...”    

 

By accident Marietta stumbled upon a local organization, CATUCA and was introduced to one of its members. CATUCA (www.atenascatuca.com), whose mission statement is the preservation of traditions; the empowerment of the community by the creation of jobs and skills training; promoting the community, and improving the quality of life of the locals, was intriguing to Marietta. She was invited to come to a meeting of the general assembly and that was that. Marietta accepted a position as secretary that she held for six years and then was elected president, a position she held for two years before stepping down. Marietta remains very involved with CATUCA, organizing many projects including the annual Feria del Clima. In 2010, Marietta joined APROSUCUENCA, an organization involved in reforesting the hills of Atenas where the watersheds that supply water for the Rio Cacao are located. Both groups work together on environmental issues in the area.

 

In addition to her tireless work with CATUCA and APROSUCUENCA, Marietta is the editor in chief of a local online, English language newsletter, Atenas Today ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ), aimed at residents and potential residents of the area. The newsletter is informative and includes a business directory. Marietta loves to read and write so this helps to fulfill her creative side by giving her an outlet. Some of Marietta’s future projects include:

 

Often times expats want to get involved in their new communities but are not sure how to go about doing this. I asked Marietta about this and her response was, “Learn Spanish.” because communication in your new community is key. “We need time more than money. It’s not about giving $50 one time. Volunteers who will donate time once per month for a project are a great help. Marietta also adds, “Change your perspective because this is not your home country and things work differently here. Work with the reality here. Those who are successfully living in the community are those who can accept the limitations we experience here. Ask yourself what can we accomplish in 6 months not 6 days. Be realistic. Don’t get mad. Find your own project and be proactive.  Just do it.”  Marietta points out that there are several organizations that are always in need of help like the Hogar de Vida (www.homesoflife.org) and Hogar de Ancianos (2446-5224). She continues by mentioning that there are other expats who have been proactive such as Kay and Tom Costello, owners of Kay’s Gringo Postres ( https://www.facebook.com/kaysgringopostres) with their exchange library and annual chili cook-off, Atenas Charity Chili Cook Off (www.atenaschilicookoff.com), to support the Hogar de Vida. The local Municipality of Atenas (http://atenas.go.cr/) always is working on projects and is a good go to when looking for a community project. Marietta says she will be happy to direct anyone wanting to lend a hand or donate to local organizations that need assistance. You can write her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 

I asked Marietta what is needed in Atenas. Her first response was “unity”. She goes on to say, “We have eight districts in Atenas and need to unite those districts. We need to be more proactive and do more outreach. For example we could bring entertainment to the districts on Sunday, like is done is San Jose.” She also points out that as a community Atenas needs an identity. Atenas is more than just “El mejor clima del mundo” or “the best climate in the world”. Marietta says, “Atenas is unique in that we have a large expat community. Expats love to be involved. Those who live here are different than those who live in Escazu or at the beach.” Often times a lack of language skills or not knowing what is needed in the community hinders those who want to help.  We must unite and overcome these difficulties for the betterment of the community. In addition, Marietta points out several projects that are needed in our community like better signage around town and a facelift of the Municipal Central Market. A few nice murals, perhaps?

 

When we first moved to Atenas, Gerardo and I made a concerted effort to be involved in the community and work with the Municipality on several projects around town, including installing over 20 trash receptacles around town. It was important to us as business owners to give back to the community that had welcomed us with open arms.  We both agree that it just makes us feel good to do something positive in the community. What motivates Marietta? Why is being involved in the community important? Marietta replies that it’s important, “So you know what is going on in the community.” She continues, “Personally, I would like my children to say my mother tried to do something for her community. She tried to help her community and did not turn her head when she knew better. My children have to have an example of some success in a particular local project to continue themselves. A vision. I have to model it for them. If you know you can, you have to. I don’t want to be told what happened, I want to see it for myself.” She continues by saying, “The green in this country is most important to me. I need to have the green around me.” I think most of us can agree, the green in this country is what draws us here.

 

We all have the privilege of living in the amazing community called Atenas. United, we can make Atenas even better by giving time and money when possible to projects around town. If you have an idea that is important to you and can bring value to the community, be proactive and DO IT. You will find support. In the process, you will learn a lot, meet locals, give back to the community, and feel a real sense of accomplishment once you have achieved the goal. In the end, Atenas will thank you and be a better place for your contribution. 

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