CEDARVILLE — Trina Jones felt compelled to talk to “the guy in the suit” after attending a chapel service last fall at Cedarville University.
She was on the Greene County campus of the Baptist university to pass out fliers for her church when she felt God telling her she’d someday be a student there.
But Jones doubted it. A former foster child, she’d recently been homeless and was still struggling to make ends meet. She didn’t think she had much in common with the students she saw around her.
“I thought I didn’t have what they had,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m struggling already. I can’t afford school and to work at the same time.’
“But the Lord laid it on my heart go down front and talk to the guy in the suit.”
That guy encouraged her to apply for admission and leave it to God. Little did she know that he was university President Thomas White. Little did he know that Jones was the perfect candidate for the new Foster Home Scholarship, his brainchild.
By December, Jones had been admitted to the university and awarded the four-year scholarship. As she again faced homelessness, school officials pulled strings so she could move to campus in January.
“It was God. It was completely God,” said Jones, 20, of Xenia. “So many people just accepted me and loved me. Cedarville became my family, because I didn’t really have a tightknit, close family.”
White said he established the scholarship, which pays for tuition and housing, based on a call to minister to orphans and widows from the New Testament book of James. Funded by the university, it will be awarded to one student from Ohio each year.
White, who has a 9-year-old adopted daughter, said the scholarship idea came to him as he looked at Ohio’s foster-care registry and wondered what would soon happen to the children who were 16 or 17.
“Who’s going to demonstrate love to them and say they have value and purpose to God and have value and purpose to us?” he said. “It’s just a way to give back to the community to demonstrate true religion and to give as God has given graciously to us.”
This year’s recipient is Haley Mills, 18, of Norton in Wayne County. She and Jones both moved onto campus last week to start the new school year.
Mills had gone back and forth between foster homes and her mother’s house since she was a baby, until she eventually was taken in by a cousin and her husband when Mills was 16. She said her mother was unable to parent her children and had kicked her father out of the home.
“The tough part is I tried to block out most of my childhood because it was so tough to remember,” she said. “Every time my mom got me back, I didn’t want to leave my foster home. They had to pry me from my foster parents.”
Mills, who attends Grace Church in the Akron area, said she thought she was an atheist until she started going to church with her cousin. Christianity, she said, helped her forgive.
“I didn’t think that was possible because forgiving the people in your life who hurt you is a really hard thing to do on our own, but I was able to through God’s strength,” she said.
“The only way I was able to forgive is because God was there, he’s always there, and he’s always been there and always will be.”
She said she’d like to mentor children who are in the same situation she was in. As for a career, she wants to settle in at Cedarville, then pursue “whatever God decides.”
Jones, who said her mother is in a nursing home and she has met her father only once, bounced between foster care and relatives from age 2 to 18. She said she felt so unwanted and burdensome that she tried to kill herself when she was 13.
She said God gave her a hope she never had until she became a Christian at 17 after a friend invited her to church.
“Things weren’t easy after that, but I had someone next to me who I knew I could trust, which was God,” Jones said. She now attends A House of Prayer in Xenia.
She is studying social work at Cedarville and wants to open an orphanage in Xenia “where every child feels accepted, and they don’t have to leave if they don’t want to.”
“I just want them to feel loved and accepted, and I want to change the city for God and for good,” she said.
“I’ve went through everything I’ve went through so I can experience God’s love even more than I’ve experienced it before, so I can show other people God’s love and what he’s done in my life.”