TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A 14-year-old Tucson girl already has a full scholarship to college.
Leiliani Martinez and her family have experienced homelessness, but now she has been given the gift that will help make her dreams a reality.
Leiliani, her mother and her sister thought they were simply attending a fundraiser on Thursday, April 28, for Our Family Services, a Tucson social services agency that has provided them housing.
Imagine their surprise when a college president granted Leiliani the scholarship.
It was an overwhelming moment, difficult to put into words.
"I was grateful. It was exciting," Leiliani said.
The president of Blackburn College in Carlinville, IL, heard about Leiliani through Pictures of Hope, a program created by photojournalist Linda Solomon.
Solomon gives cameras to children who are living in shelters and has them photograph their hopes and dreams.
Leiliani's latest photograph says, "My dream is to believe in me."
"She's going to know that we do believe in her, that a scholarship is awaiting her. And that alone will give her the confidence to always believe in herself and that was her dream," Solomon said.
"Every child deserves to know their dreams matter. And without hope, how can you move forward? So a project like this shows the kids their hopes and dreams are right there in front of them. They're in their camera and they can achieve them," Solomon said.
Leiliani is getting the message loud and clear.
Her mother wiped away tears.
"It just makes my heart happy. and seeing them have a future, that's all a mother wants," Guadalupe Martinez said.
Blackburn College President Dr. John Comerford flew out from Illinois to personally offer Leiliani the scholarship.
"Her picture is about believing in herself. And it's that kind of student, the one who has that motivation, that I think can be successful in college if someone just gives them a chance," Comerford said.
Leiliani will be a freshman at a Tucson Unified School District high school next fall then, in four years, it's off to college.
Pictures of Hope has been in 49 cities.
Solomon said Tucson has had the program longer than any other city, five consecutive years.
The childrens' photographs are made into greeting cards.
Proceeds from the purchase of the cards go to the non-profit Our Family Services.