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Harrowgate Woman Inspiring Young City Girls With Self-Funded Cheer Squad

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In the Harrowgate section of Philadelphia, there's not always something to cheer about.

"It's the violence, drugs, dropouts from high school, teen pregnancies," said Michelle Martinez.

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Twenty-four years ago, as a teenager living on Amber Street, Martinez took it upon herself to change that.

harrowgate cheer squad
Credit: (CBS3)

"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.

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"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.

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.

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"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.

"Because of her, we're here and we know our babies are secure with her. They change everybody's life," said Bueno.

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