Yessinia Martinez Professional HeadshotMeet Yessinia Martinez

I used to be a teenager heading down the wrong path. But when I found out about Woods Mill High School and Goodwill of North Georgia, my life turned to a positive path. Growing up, I lived in extreme poverty in a non-English speaking household, with a single parent. There was hunger and long periods of unemployment. While trying to find my way I made some bad decisions, like drug use, risky behaviors, and low school attendance. At the age of 15, I found myself homeless and forced to become an adult.

It was then that someone at my local church allowed me to sleep in her living room in exchange for caring for her young children. I was grateful but still I struggled to reach my personal goals. I was failing high school and still resided in an unsafe neighborhood. The police visited their neighborhood regularly, and there was gang activity, violent fights and even a murder. Sometimes I slept on the floor of the home to avoid crossfire from the gunshots I heard outside.

While coping with these conditions, I heard about a new opportunity at a new, non-traditional high school named Wood’s Mill Academy. My enrollment into Woods Mill introduced me to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Youth Employment Services Program through a partnership with the school. Goodwill provided career development, soft skills training, and employment opportunities to opportunity youth at the school site. I quickly signed up and began attending job readiness classes. Before the program, I wasn’t motivated to find a job. I didn’t believe in myself.

That year I recognized new hope and opportunity. I rediscovered my goal to attend college and become an elementary school teacher. I got a job working with children at the local YMCA.

I received my diploma and plan to enroll for the Fall 2012 semester at Georgia Perimeter College. I also completed a Leadership certificate through the GALEO Institute for Leadership and the University of Georgia Fanning Institute. I have found a school and work balance that allows me to meet my goals. My new income has enabled me to improve my family and living circumstances. I’m committed to giving back to the community and I’m interested in helping young people who face similar barriers. I was honored to be selected as a Capitol Hill Speaker this year and a scholarship will allow me to share my story and advocate for youth.