Melissa, who is now 34, began using drugs when she was 15. She ended up in jail, facing a long-term sentence but was released on November 25, 2014, and went straight to the Mission to do our 12-month Residential Recovery Program. She had planned to run away within the first few weeks, but God had bigger plans.
Not only did she get sober and graduate from the program, she got a job and enrolled in college to finish her degree.
“In 2020, I had just started at the University of California, Santa Barbara, planning to major in communications. But in my first quarter, I decided to switch to sociology,” Melissa says. “I got involved with a program called Underground Scholars that helps formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students who are interested in higher education. So, I started going to the meetings and becoming more involved with that.”
Melissa graduated college this past June! “I never in a million years thought that I was going to have a degree from such a prestigious university,” she says. But graduating – while on the dean’s list 3 of her quarters – is only one of her accomplishments.
“Towards the end of my time, once it was getting closer to graduation, I was offered an opportunity to work as the coordinator for the Underground Scholars program on campus. I work at the university. I have an office there, and I have a title. I’m the Underground Scholars Program Coordinator. And so I meet with students and I help them if they need help with advising. Then, within the next six months, I think we’re looking to move me into a director position on campus.”
Melissa is also now a part of her children’s lives, and she recently moved into a new place. In the future, she plans to get a graduate degree and has already been accepted to Pepperdine. But for now, she’s focusing on her job and expanding the program, and getting more people involved in higher education.
“I didn’t want my addiction to be my full story. I knew that I had so much more to offer than just that I was a drug addict . . . I’m so, so blessed to have been able to really find my passion in helping people and still be able to share my story to people that can relate to my story.”