Former CSUSM student, friend aim to create compassionate community in Rat Park


Rat Park Foundation founders Gabriela Martinez (left) and Anrea Santos (right).

Lexy Perez, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Ghandi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Former CSUSM student Gabriela Martinez and her friend, Anrea Santos, found something that they truly believe in and strive to make a difference in people’s lives.

Just last year, Martinez and Santos began to build Rat Park Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting health by educating and raising awareness about substance abuse. Determined to challenge the stigmas society holds on addictions, Martinez and Santos aspire to create a compassionate community in which those struggling with their addiction issues can find a home and foundation for consistent support, guidance and resources to help them with making a change in their life.

“We created Rat Park to raise awareness about drug awareness and to reduce the stigmas that surround it,” said Martinez. “What we want to do is put together a different community that basically reconnects the community and brings everyone out to safe events.”

What started off as an abstract idea turned into a full-fledged movement. Being a lover of fitness, Martinez hoped to participate in a 5K run, but was unsure of what cause to run for. Santos couldn’t help but think of loved ones who have struggled with addiction for years.

“We just thought, ‘Let’s put together a run and the money will go toward people that can’t afford to get to recovery.’ As we started researching how to put this fund together, we had to pick a non-profit to send the money to and there wasn’t really one out there that really held our values,” said Santos, “We thought that we should just start our own and now it’s not going to be just a 5K, it’s going to be different events, like our upcoming music and art festival, and something we really want to build.”

Martinez and Santos have focused on generating support through word of mouth. Simply by reaching out to different people, they are now in the process of working with other non-profit organizations such as Fighting for Me, an organization that provides free counseling for sexual abuse victims, and certified doctors whom have offered resources for counseling services and assistance.

“Our cause goes hand in hand with a lot of other causes. We have a team of really strong supporters,” said Martinez.

Something that Martinez and Santos want to emphasize is that society holds a wrongful stigma on addicts. Some believe that addicts are people who should be avoided, for they are a lost cause and there is no sense in attempting to help them. But Martinez and Santos believe that there is a bigger picture other than what people only allow themselves to see.

“They [addicts] fear judgment, fear of not being accepted and that’s the biggest thing. We are trying to raise compassion for people that are struggling so that they don’t feel judged. We need to rebuild positive human connection,” said Santos.

Money from these upcoming events will all go towards creating a grant program that can help those struggling with having access to resources.

“We are setting up a grant program ourselves. After the events that we are doing this year, we believe that we will have enough money to have grants by 2017, which is when people can start applying,” said Martinez. “In the meantime, we are compiling a list of resources where we know these places give compassionate care.”

Despite continuing to promote their brand and have their voices heard, it’s clear that Martinez and Santos are ready to change the world for the better.

“If we want to see change, we need to advocate for change in the system. That’s not working and failing [to change],” said Santos.

Their upcoming launch party will feature food, art and music. The special aspect of this festival is that many of the performers and organizations involved have either gone through recovery or resonate with the cause on a personal level.

“We want to invite you to a community that is accepting and compassionate with whatever or anything that you could be struggling with,” said Santos.

The launch party will be from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on May 21 at 1621 Alton Parkway, Irvine, CA 92606. To learn more information about Rat Park Foundation, visit or contact Martinez and Santos at [email protected].