Homeless teen determined to make college dream come true

Photography by Melanie Bell

Nominated by Gulfstream Goodwill Industries

“Now I hug people!” Zoraida Martinez says brightly, leaning over to a visitor to do just that.

This is a new thing for her, considering “my old self (thought) hugging was too vulnerable, my soul connecting to your soul.”

Who could blame her? This 19-year-old has, since childhood, braved bullying and every imaginable kind of family dysfunction, “never having a stable home and just bouncing around” and experiencing repeated devastating periods of homelessness. In 9th grade, she was stressed with securing shelter when she should have been picking out homecoming dresses.

But this is “the new me,” Zoraida says, smiling and safe in a meeting room at the Senator Phillip D. Lewis Homeless Resource Center. Here, she has a small bed in a room she shares with two other girls. That room has been the anchor she needs to attain her ultimate goal: Becoming a peer counselor for kids who’ve struggled like her.

Before she can get to college, she must finish her senior year at Palm Beach Lakes High School. “A diploma can get me places a GED can’t,” she maintains.

“All odds were against her,” says Laura Waterman of Gulfstream Goodwill, who met Zoraida through the agency’s GoodLeaders program, which has supported her as she’s gone from no high school credits to a 2.1 GPA. “Most of us would be less resilient. But through all the drama, she said ‘I will go to school.’”

And to do that, she’s going to need a new place to live — an apartment with roommates. She needs money for rent for at least a year so she can focus on school. She’ll also need the means to get to school, including bus and rail passes, school, and hygiene supplies and more.

Zoraida believes that with a little help, she can take her painful past and turn it into a positive for herself and for others. “My point of view is that God sent me thought this path, that not everyone can go through,” she says.

Zoraida’s wish:

Zoraida Martinez is a 19-year-old high school senior who survived a turbulent upbringing and several bouts of homelessness to get a second chance at graduating with a diploma and a path to college, where she wants to study peer counseling. But she needs to move out of the Senator Phillip D. Lewis Homeless Resource Center soon. Zoraida needs rent for one year, bus and rail passes, and help with school supplies.

Nominated by: Gulfstream Goodwill Industries, Inc.

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