LAKE WALES – Angel Martinez longs to see a movie with her friends, and to have a room of her own.
“I’d decorate it how I want,” she said, “with the colors of the sky.”
Instead, she lives in a cramped two-bedroom mobile home near Lake Wales with her parents, her sister and her brother. Worn carpet camouflages the holes in the weakened floor. Lights in the kitchen haven’t worked in weeks.
“This house is old and small, and I don’t like it,” the 12-year-old girl said. “I’d like to live in a real house. I don’t know what that would be like.”
She’s not alone.
Angel is among the 29 percent of Polk County children under age 18 who live in poverty conditions, according to a state report prepared for the Legislature in July by the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. The report ranks Polk 31st among the state’s 67 counties.
When Angel started seventh grade this year at McLaughlin Middle School in Lake Wales, she carried a backpack she picked out. It’s a first for her.
“We usually get something that’s been donated,” she said.
Her mother, Kristina, said their school supplies usually are donated through the Lake Wales Care Center or their church, but this year, she was able to squirrel away a bit of their income tax return to get new supplies.
“We didn’t pick out any fancy stuff, but it’s all new,” she said.
They haven’t always been that fortunate.
When Angel’s fifth-grade class went to Sea World, she stayed behind. The money just wasn’t there to pay for it.
“I try not to let it bother me,” she said, “but it’s hard sometimes.”
The family lives on the money Angel’s father, Juan, earns as a crew leader for a sod company. Kristina is attending classes at Polk State College on a federal grant to become a registered nurse, but until she completes that program, money is tight.
On top of that, Angel and her sister, Kaley, have hereditary conditions leading to weight problems and borderline juvenile diabetes. Medicaid covers most of their medical expenses, Kristina said, but not all of them.
Food stamps help with making ends meet, as well, she said, but there’s still little left over for much else.
When her friends head to the movies at nearby Eagle Ridge Mall, Angel frequently stays behind and listens to music.
“I’d want to go, but we just don’t have the money for that,” she said. “So I just talk to my friends and they tell me about the movie and what they did. I just deal with it. It’s always been that way for us, so I guess I’m used to it.
“I really don’t feel that different from other kids,” she said. “There are so many kids who are living just like I am. I have a friend who can’t go anywhere because she has to stay home and help her mother with the younger kids. That’s just the way things are.”
In the last 10 years, Angel and her family have followed jobs to Alabama, Florida and Georgia, moving about every year or so. They’ve lived in Lake Wales, this time, since March 2014.
Angel said she despises the constant moving.
“It’s hard always leaving my friends,” she said. “I’m kind of shy, and I don’t like being the new kid, but I know it’s going to happen. I just deal with it.”
In the quiet times, Angel said she dreams about a house with a yard, “so I can have a dog,” she said, “And I’d like clothes that don’t have holes in them.
“I don’t feel like people look down on me because of my clothes, but I’d like to have clothes that are new. That would be nice. Maybe I will, someday.”