PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In the Harrowgate section of Philadelphia, there’s not always something to cheer about.READ MORE: People Will Likely Lose Up To 58 Hours Of Sleep By 2099, Study Suggests
“It’s the violence, drugs, dropouts from high school, teen pregnancies,” said Michelle Martinez.
Twenty-four years ago, as a teenager living on Amber Street, Martinez took it upon herself to change that.
“Dated today, I’ve coached over 160 girls on my own,” she said.
Martinez started a self-funded neighborhood cheerleading squad called that Amber Owls.
A season now costs parents just $14 a season for uniforms, ribbons, and socks.
“I don’t think any child should, because they don’t have the money to do a sport, be denied,” she said.
Out of her small apartment, she teaches young girls to channel their big voices into big dreams.READ MORE: Phanatic's Hot Dog Launcher, Enormous Bryce Harper Banner Among Items Up For Grabs In Phillies Phantastic Auction
Martinez says she wants to instill self-confidence in the girls and give them a positive outlet in a tough neighborhood.
“We don’t these want these babies to go out in these streets,” Rosanna Bueno, a cheerleading mom, said. “I really appreciate what [Martinez] is doing, as a mom, as a friend, as a sister to all of us.”
Bueno says thanks to this team, her nine-year-old, Destiny Aviles, has gained confidence and a career goal of becoming a professional cheerleader.
“She’s the best coach ever and she’s the proudest one ever,” Aviles said.
She also gets to bond with eight-year-old Alenid Santiago, her best friend since Kindergarten.
“When we met, she came up to me and said, ‘Can we be best friends?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ and she said, ‘Okay.’”
They’re taught more than just technique; they’ve gained friendship, a new family and now a free space.
During the school year, the girls will have another place to practice in. Martinez says the city has offered them a studio at the Heitzman Recreation Center.
“We did basements, living rooms, backyards, back lots, parks,” Martinez said. “Your humble beginnings, I will never forget them.”
Neither will these girls.MORE NEWS: Tambayan Connecting With Customers At Reading Terminal Market Through Authentic Filipino Cuisine
“Because of her, we’re here and we know our babies are secure with her. They change everybody’s life,” said Bueno.