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Homeless teen says mom is driving force behind him being valedictorian

Posted at 4:28 PM, Jun 09, 2020

Growing up, life for Martin Folsom meant constant change.

"Me and my mom were back and forth from different states and shelters because of domestic violence issues with my now ex-stepdad," said Folsom.

Folsom’s mom, Melva, says with the constant moving, she and her son would look at it as if they were on vacation.

In 2016, they moved to Jacksonville, Florida. It's a place the two now call home in their own apartment. However, when they got to Jacksonville, they were in and out of shelters--once in 9th grade and another time during Folsom’s 11th-grade year.

"We had a lot of challenging situations at the shelter, but I didn’t let that discourage myself or my son," said Melva.

They also had help from Daniel Kids, a program that helps homeless teens.

"During the time we were in the shelter, Martin’s school wasn’t close. So, they helped us with bus passes and certain items we needed like going to the prom," said Melva.

Daniel Kids provided Folsom with a fitted suit for prom that could also be used for job interviews in the future. He was also a part of Project Prepare, an independent living skills program.

"He became a leader amongst our other youth,” recalled Carmella Prescott, Project Prepare program director. “Really shining example to others, especially how to manage your emotions and interact with other people."

Through all of that, Folsom’s mom somehow made his education a top priority.

"My mom always instilled the importance of education in me from day one. During the time when me and my mom lived in the shelters, one of the things that made me happy was getting good grades, but it also made my mom really proud of me, so it was kind of a win-win situation," he said.

All that hard work paid off. Not only was he class president all four years of high school-- despite what was going on in his personal life—he was also named valedictorian for the Class of 2020 at A. Philip Randolph Career Academies.

"I had the mentality of going to school, being the best that I can, and getting good grades, and I happened to be one of the smartest kids in my school," Folsom said.

For teens who are going through the same thing Folsom did, he says to dream big and look toward the future.

"It’s easy to think about all the bad that’s going on right now and try to do something that can make yourself like drink early or smoke or have fun with friends, doing stuff to try and get your mind off of where you are and you’re in the situation. But you have to remember that none of that stuff is going to help you now or even in the future," he said.

Martin says he’ll be going to Valdosta State University in Georgia this fall and plans to get his master’s degree in finance.