There’s nothing conventional about Elisa Martel or her space inside Yard Birds, which she has come to call “Second Chance Youth Unified Blessings.”
It’s not an organization. In fact, that would be the last word used to describe it. It’s simply a space, born out of Martel’s faith in God and passion for helping kids. There, she and other group members collect donations of clothing, food or anything else to give to children in need of any age or background with no questions asked.
It’s not certified as a daycare or charity, nor does Martel have any business license. She’s not making money from it, either. She is simply trying to offer what she was seeking in her time of need. A sign in the unit calls it “help without discrimination.”
Martel, 48, said she was homeless for 20 years. She spent time in Colorado, Texas, Idaho, Montana and “all over the place,” she said. After 27 years of being disconnected from family, Martel eventually reconnected with her father and stepmother, and moved to be with them in Grand Mound.
Her father was 73 when he got to meet his grandchildren, Martel’s three daughters and two sons, for the first time.
“There’s a lot of things that life throws at you. I've been raped and abused and, you know, if you live on the streets, you're going to go through some things,” she said, adding those experiences set her up to understand other people’s struggles. “The people that come in here don’t have nobody to talk to and think that they’re invisible. (When they) find out that you went through some of the things that you did they’re just like, ‘wow, I can make it another day.’”
The most earth-shattering moment Martel recalled from the years she spent homeless was when a young girl she was close to froze to death because nobody knew she had been living under a bridge. Her mission now is to prevent any child she knows from the same fate.
At Second Chance Youth Unified Blessings, under the “B” behind Shankz in Yard Birds, there is a pantry of non-perishable food, a rack of shoes, dishes and burner plates, clean clothes, crayons and other art supplies. Martel also aims to offer a safe space for kids to just come hang out. She tries to be there every day from noon to 7 p.m. and other adults accompany her including Boy Scouts Olympic District Chair Jack Bass, Martel’s fiance Albert Weeks and one of her daughters Neiomi Cruz.
Recently the group had someone host a free painting class which a handful of teenagers showed up to. They intend to hold more events like that in the future.
Martel can be contacted at 360-403-9091 or found in the unit in the mall. Those having trouble finding her just need to look for the lady in the sparkly outfit with star stickers on her face and multicolored contact lenses.
“I tell everybody, it's not about this, it's not about makeup and all that stuff,” she said. “It's knowing that light that lives inside of you and shining it out. I just happen to put my own on the outside as well. And I encourage everybody around me to be yourself and not who people try to make you to be.”