ORLANDO, Fla. — Musical theater is Kayla Martinez's favorite class. The 19-year-old student is close with her classmates and teachers, which makes it hard to realize that she has only known them for a year.
- Kayla Martinez tells of her struggles of not seeing her family for 2 years
- Her school is helping to make sure she is going to college
- As Venezuela grows worse, she hopes her family can legally return to the US
- People can donate to help Kayla Martinez here
Even though Martinez was born in the U.S., her family is Venezuelan, and in 2011, they went back to Venezuela to renew their visas. However, during their appointment at the embassy the unexpected happened.
"They just denied the visas and said we weren't able to go back," said Martinez.
Her parents were sure they could fix the problem quickly and return to the country they had been living in since 2000, but that did not happen.
For the next eight years, her family would remain in Venezuela, getting denied 16 more times. The problem is that with every passing year, living in Venezuela got worse and worse.
Finally, Martinez's family could take it no longer.
"Then my mom said, 'You know what I think? You are just going to have to go,'" she recalled.
Because Martinez is a U.S. citizen she could return, just her brother, mother and father could not. It was the hardest decision of her life, but the then 17 year old would return to the U.S. without her family.
"Again it was like super bittersweet, because I have always wanted to come back. But I didn't think it would be by myself," said Martinez crying.
She is now 19 and for more than a year now she has been on her own. She found a room in a house to rent, got two jobs, and began school.
With tears in her eyes, Martinez said nodding, "yeah" when asked if she became an adult overnight.
It was a struggle, but her game plan stayed the same for many months.
"I will finish my studies, but I can just get a job and I will send them money, and that way they are like going to be fine," said Martinez. "I can do something. Not just like leave and feel like I left them there."
No one at school knew her daily struggle of surviving, not because she did not want to tell them, but because it never came up.
"She is put together, she is polite, she works hard, so I had no indication of any of that," said one of her closest teachers, Jeff Williams, the musical theater director at Cypress Creek High School.
However, everything changed when Martinez got a toothache and needed to go to a dentist. That is when the nurse told Williams and he and other teachers figured out she did not have parents here to help her.
Now the school district, the principal and others are also stepping up to help her go to college, something she did not think was possible.
"I literally just feel so blessed, like all the people that have been knowing about my story and they so generally want to help me, " said Martinez. "And it is literally just a blessing."
She will be going to New York this week on a school trip with other theater students to visit colleges, see plays and learn more about the career she wants to pursue: singing and acting.
On top of this, Williams and the school principal Dr. W. John McHale are even trying to help her with a car her family left behind. It is in disrepair, so the teen takes the train or uses ride-sharing services to get to work and school.
For now, the car is just holding her family belongings.
"Everything theirs is untouchable, ya know? And it's something that they deserve to see when they come back," said Martinez.
Her hope is that soon she will not be alone and her family will get to legally return.
Those who wish to help Martinez and other unaccompanied teens can donate to a foundation set up by the Orange County Public Schools.
To specifically help Martinez, just put her name in the comments section.