WESLEY CHAPEL — Kelly Flores started singing at 2, and by the time she was 7 her church leaders in the Bronx were asking her to perform solos.
"I was like wow, people like my singing,'' she recalled. "I guess I didn't realize I could sing."
People kept telling her she should do it professionally, so she and her parents have been taking their advice ever since. Now 20, Flores views singing as her mission. She performs Christian music at churches, carnivals, nursing homes, juvenile detention centers, and other places she feels she can have an impact. She goes by the stage name Kelly Kelz.
She's found her calling serving as a role model and inspiration for troubled girls, who look up to her and respect her.
"It was really humbling because they have really no one to look up to once they are in there," she said of recent trips singing at the juvenile detention centers in Polk and Pinellas. "I'm trying to encourage them that they can change, that there's something better for them once they get out."
She said they ask her a lot of questions. They share their lives with her. Some rap and write poetry. They show her what they're working on and she encourages them, listens, shows genuine interest in them.
"I just stood there and listened, and interacted as long as I could," she said.
Flores lives in Wesley Chapel with her parents and brother. Her father's job brought them to the Tampa area in 2004.
Chip Flores is a Tampa police captain. He is also a part-time record producer and owner of HolyZone Records, a record label he started with Flores' mother Denise.
Christian music, or "music for the soul" as they call it, is a family business, and mission. Younger brother Adam, or A-Flo, is a rapper and sometimes performs with his sister. He attends Hillsborough Community College. Both graduated from Wesley Chapel High School.
She attended Trinity College for two years, majoring in Christian counseling. She didn't finish, and she said she's contemplating her next move. She worked as a nanny for two years and now works part-time at the front desk of a hotel. "I still try to put all my effort into music because that's what I want to do full time," she said.
She performs regularly at local churches including Crossover Church in Tampa, Victorious Life Church in Wesley Chapel, and Oasis Christian Fellowship of New Port Richey and Holiday.
She does outreach for the low-income community in Holiday. Teenage girls come up to her and want to meet her, some write her letters.
"It makes me feel really good and obviously they're getting a good message about God and not what they're hearing on the radio. That's what I try to do is give them a positive alternative."
Pastor Raffy Morales with Oasis Christian Fellowship in Holiday said, "She has that ability to make anybody feel special. To reach out and just be able to hang out with them."
Flores did a concert at Oasis last Saturday. "Using the word perform just doesn't fit her. She blessed us with her talents," he said. "You know how God is, he shows himself through other people, through her singing."
He said the girls that come to his church really benefit from spending time with Flores.
"She's got such a special ability to reach out to these people, especially the young ladies. She's just so humble. She will hug and embrace anybody."
He said his daughter is 10 and she looks up to her.
"It doesn't' matter where you come from. She just has this extra special way of making people feel welcome and accepted. They look past who they think they are and they see who they can become."
Flores just released a CD titled, Seasons Change, and a dollar of every CD sold goes to Clearwater-based International Street Kids Ministry, which raises money for orphaned children who are victims of human trafficking.
She is trying to expand her reach and her message and has traveled to places like New Orleans and New York, and Lowell, Mass. She's hoping to make a trip to Texas next.
"I love being on stage and singing for God," she said. "What's better than that?"
Adam Flores is starting to really take his stand, impacting the younger men, Denise Flores said. "Even guys in their 20s and 30s are saying how he's affected them."
She said they realized early on that a lot of youth today didn't appreciate songs like Amazing Grace, so they created contemporary beats with inspirational lyrics. Dad wrote and produced songs, creating unique beats and genres, rock, pop, R&B. Now Kelly and Adam write their own songs.
"We offer them a positive alternative to what's out there now," Denise Flores said. "We found that here it was so needed, and people were very receptive … They were coming to us in tears and saying how much they were touched."
Denise Flores worked for two years with troubled kids at Wesley Chapel High School. The teens were drinking, cutting classes, depressed, dropping out of school. "People think it's just the inner-city kids but it's not." They live in nice homes, have nice things, but their parents weren't there enough, she said.
"Seeing that helped me realize, 'Wow, there's a great need out there.' "