Wish Book

He was a homeless teenage computer whiz who built a PC. His holiday wish: a laptop

Carlos Zelaya posed next to his computer, he was a homeless teenage computer whiz who built a PC, he wish to replace his homemade PC with a laptop that has Word so he can do college homework and bring it to the library at Miami Dade College For Wishbook, on Friday December 22, 2018.
Carlos Zelaya posed next to his computer, he was a homeless teenage computer whiz who built a PC, he wish to replace his homemade PC with a laptop that has Word so he can do college homework and bring it to the library at Miami Dade College For Wishbook, on Friday December 22, 2018. pportal@miamiherald.com

Carlos Zelaya was a homeless high school student last year, bouncing from couch to couch until nobody except a shelter would take him in. Now he’s a 19-year-old student at Miami Dade College, pursuing a business degree.

He needed a computer for his college coursework, so he built one. A homemade PC with no add-ons. His holiday wish for 2018: a laptop he could take to the library.

“Sometimes, the computers at school are full,” Zelaya said in a recent interview. “Sometimes I have homework assignments I can’t do on my PC, because I don’t have Word.”

A year ago, Zelaya was a high school student with no home or nearby family, sleeping on couches of friends and friends of friends. That only lasted so long, and he ended up bunking in a homeless shelter. He did well.

“The people there liked me a lot,” Zelaya recalled during a recent interview. “I was always on point with the rules.”

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Zelaya credits a recommendation from a shelter manager for his current spate of good fortune: an apartment in a residential facility for young people who need help. That’s at Miami’s Casa Valentina, which provides housing and other services for former foster children and at-risk youth.

He said his homemade PC started with his brother, who had built them before and suggested Zelaya could do it. “I learned from YouTube how to build a PC,” he said. “I got the parts and started building it myself.”

For Zelaya, family support isn’t an option. He refers to a brother who is really just a good friend he has known since childhood. His mother lives in Honduras. There was a time when she lived in the United States and sent Zelaya to Honduras to live with grandparents. She was working two jobs, but found it hard to earn more while having a son at home, too.

“She wanted me to have a better life,” Zelaya said.

He came back to the United States at 17, but didn’t find a stable place to live until Casa Valentina took him in earlier this year. “Thank God I’m finally here,” he said.

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