That “Umph”


Most college students carry the standard few necessities in their backpack—paper, notebook and a writing utensil. When Jonathan Martinez started school at Florida Technical College he carried his own version of an essential in his backpack—the tent he was living in.

I met Jonathan a few weeks ago when I was out with the outreach team for work and my friend Hannah who has been taking top notch pictures for us!(Like the one above) We talked for just a few minutes that day, but I knew upon meeting him that he had a story to tell and I wanted to hear it. I came back later that week to record a video and interview him for our annual report.

He and I spent hours talking together. We met at Starbucks and then wanted to go back to his camp to talk to his sweet girlfriend, Michel. When she wasn’t at the camp we basically went on a wild goose chase to track her down! I’ve been in lots of homeless camps over the years, but I’ve never had a day like I did with Jonathan. He’s just a few months older than me, so we had a lot of fun hanging out and drinking coffee, walking around the mall, touring his school and talking at his camp. 

Jonathan is a self-described “product of the foster care system.” He grew up in the Bronx bouncing around from family to family. Once he turned 18 he thought he’d move to the Kissimmee area in an effort to reconcile the relationship with his estranged mother(whom he refuses to say a bad word about). When that reconciliation didn’t pan out, Jonathan was left feeling essentially option-less. It wasn’t until Jonathan, who had been interested in art and drawing since he was a kid, discovered FTC in the Osceola mall that he decided to make a change.

“It’s all about commitment right now for me,” Jonathan says. “So I commit to different things. I commit to my health and my fitness. I commit to eating everyday. I commit to trying to get good sleep,” he laughs and gestures toward the tent behind him. “If you can call it good sleep. And I commit to my education. I committed to creating a better lifestyle overall for myself even amidst my struggles.”

That commitment paid off. Jonathan finished his classes in December of 2013 and in June he will walk with an Associate of Science Degree in Web and Graphic Design. He was homeless throughout the entire 18-months he was a student. He is still homeless today.

“It don’t make me feel bad,” Jonathan says. “It makes me feel…it gives me that ‘umph’ to just- I gotta get up, get out of the tent and leave right now and go do something. It just pushes me to do better.”

Jonathan was perfectly at ease in any scenario we were in that day. He is as comfortable with the men and women in the neighboring homeless camp with their often outlandish theories of how society operates as he is with the teachers and deans of the school he introduced me to. He’s a regular at the Starbucks near his camp, and while pretty much all of the employees know and love him–very few know his situation. Jonathan prefers it that way and is insistent that he be considered as any other regular–no special treatment or discounts, but they better know his drink order by now.

He operates in a way that I wish more clients(and people in general) I met did–that his tough situation is hard and disruptive but it has the potential to be incredibly temporary. Jonathan wants out and I wholeheartedly believe he will get out of that tent. Because he’s driven in a way that no one I’ve ever met is. And I’m not just counting clients I meet at work. I’m talking human beings with situations far more conducive to success than Jonathan’s has been. He wanted an education, so he got one. Sky’s the limit in my opinion with a mentality like that.


  1. This story inspires me. I don’t care what walk of life you’re from, this is greatness. I’d really like the opportunity to briefly speak with him.


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