When you turn on the news today, it’s tough to find something to be cheerful about. All of the stories about violence, bigotry, and political scandal are enough to make your blood boil or send you into a deep state of depression.
Yet, despite living in what is often considered to be a “bad neighborhood,” Michelle Martinez has dedicated herself to spreading cheer all throughout her community.
Noticing violence in her community, Michelle Martinez started a cheer squad.
Growing up in the Harrowgate neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Martinez noticed that it wasn’t always the happiest place in the world.
“It’s the violence, drugs, dropouts from high school, teen pregnancies,” she recently told CBS Philly.
She sought an opportunity to fix that 24 years ago when she started a self-funded neighborhood cheerleading squad called the Amber Owls, named after Amber Street where Martinez grew up.
The squad isn’t particularly big or fancy—Martinez hosts their meetings in her small apartment—but they are loud and confident. During the school year, the girls will now be able to practice at a local recreation center.
Accessibility has been a big focus for Martinez over the years, and she’s always made sure to keep her prices low. Right now, a full season only costs parents $14 for uniforms, socks, and ribbons.
“I don’t think any child should, because they don’t have the money to do a sport, be denied,” Martinez said.
It is thanks to that thoughtfulness that so many children have been helped over the years: 160 to be exact!
The squad has had a big impact on her community, instilling confidence in many children.
Both parents and children alike are grateful for Martinez’s care. Case in point, Rosanna Bueno, mother of 9-year-old Destiny Aviles, had some very kind words to share about her daughter’s coach.
“I really appreciate what [Martinez] is doing, as a mom, as a friend, as a sister to all of us,” Bueno told CBS Philly.
Thanks to Martinez, Destiny has gained much more confidence and is considering cheerleading as a future career.
“She’s the best coach ever and she’s the proudest one ever,” Destiny told CBS Philly.
Through Amber Owls, Harrowgate residents have strengthened not just their cheerleading skills but their friendships and leadership abilities as well. Plus, the group gives parents an extra sense of security.
“Because of [Martinez], we’re here and we know our babies are secure with her. They change everybody’s life,” said Bueno.