Keyly Martinez was born in Portland, a daughter of hardworking immigrants from El Salvador. When she was a year old, her mother sent her to live with her grandparents in their Central American homeland.

She returned to the United States in 2005, first to Massachusetts, where her mother had found work. She started third grade speaking only Spanish. In 2008, her family returned to Portland, where she enrolled at King Middle School. By then, she spoke English well enough to take honors classes.

“That’s pretty much when it all started,” Martinez said, referring to educators and others who have become her extended family, including staff members at Catherine McAuley High School.

“They encouraged me to be a leader and provided the opportunity to grow,” Martinez said. “They really care for the person I am and want me to be all I can be.”

That support intensified in January, when her mother again had to leave Maine to find work. Marie Eschner, guidance director at Catherine McAuley, welcomed Martinez into her home so she could finish high school here.

“Marie and the others are my little family right now,” Martinez said. “It’s a group of women supporting me who have a mindset to help others. It’s only right that I continue that.”

Martinez has spent much of the last four years helping others, including volunteer work with the Salvation Army, Mercy Hospital and Sacred Heart Food Pantry. She also participated in the Otisfield-based Seeds of Peace global youth leadership program, where she learned that listening is a major part of effective communication.

“Now, I listen to people to understand and not just respond right afterward,” Martinez said. “It’s such a different way of communicating. It’s what allows people to feel they can effect change in their own lives and communities.”

Martinez, who identifies herself as “queer” and says she’s “pretty androgynous” and doesn’t fit “heteronormative ideas of most people,” helped to start a gay, straight and transgender student alliance at Catherine McAuley, a Catholic high school for girls. She’s also an AmeriCorps organizer, working with Portland youth to address educational, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic barriers.

Martinez will attend Wheaton College in Massachusetts in the fall to study business management and social justice so she can run a nonprofit to help minorities and women.

“I want to give back as best I can wherever I go,” she said.

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