From Survivor to Thriver: How Point Loma Nazarene University is helping survivors thrive


She’s standing outside in the hustle of the city. She is wearing a short red dress––thin and tight to her body––and the wind causes the hairs on her arms to rise. Or maybe this is the nerves. There are men who caress her figure with their eyes. She feels dirty for simply standing. She feels stuck in this grime. She feels that she cannot run or scream, because her voice will merely melt into the night. And then a miracle happens: it takes only one second, and one man is asking if she is alright, is telling her that he is a policeman here to bring her to safety. She goes with him, and thus begins her years of recuperation.

She is a survivor.

But what happens next? Where will she work? How will she fit herself back into society? How can she feel human again?

Often times, survivors of human trafficking aren’t sure of what steps to take once they’ve escaped or what opportunities are available to them. This is why in 2014, Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) created the Beauty for Ashes Fund, a scholarship that contributes to the cost of tuition for survivors of human trafficking.

I was incredibly moved when I discovered this wonderful opportunity, so I called up Kim Berry Jones, PLNU’s Director of External Relations and Development, and one of the founders of Beauty for Ashes.

Jones graduated from PLNU in 1990 and began volunteering with the university’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR) in 2013. She had recently discovered that human trafficking was an issue in San Diego, but when she heard the story of a survivors deep longing to go to college, she felt compelled to use her marketing skills to make a positive change. Along with the CJR director, Dr. Jamie Gates, and PLNU’s anti-trafficking liaison, Michelle Shoemaker, Jones managed to raise enough money to fund and launch the Beauty for Ashes Fund.

Beauty for Ashes is intended to aid survivors of human trafficking who have already been admitted to PLNU and are in pursuit of their first bachelor’s degree. Coincidentally, within the first four years, the five survivors who have applied for and received aid have all been formerly sex-trafficked women from the San Diego area (home to PLNU), even though this is not required to apply. Recipients can be survivors of any type of human trafficking, including both labor and sex trafficking.

After financial aid has been offered and accepted, the scholarship works to cover the rest of tuition fees. But, Jones stated that it offers more than just tuition.

“When we first began [working toward making the scholarship happen], we thought ‘Wow, won’t this be amazing, we can pay for their tuition!’ But we soon realized that’s not the main point…it’s the community, the love and the support that helps them thrive, more than the education!”

All recipients are paired with a faculty mentor who supports them through their academic and spiritual lives, as well as promotes their personal well-being in this new recovery stage of their journey. They are also given access to local counseling, on-campus disability services, and student and spiritual development services. All of this is kept private unless the survivors decide to share their stories, because they are their stories to tell.

This scholarship empowers survivors to strive towards their own healing, to make something great of their futures. They are supported, of course, but they reach their goals on their own merit.

Jones said:

“The survivors I know are the most resilient people I’ve ever met…I have no doubt they will change the world because they have such hearts for marginalized people. One of our graduates has a real heart for early prevention and talking to vulnerable kids in the San Diego area. We call her a ‘thriver’ instead of a ‘survivor’.”

Arizona State University offers a similar scholarship to human trafficking survivors under the condition that survivors are Arizona residents, but Jones thinks that this type of scholarship needs to expand across more universities. “My personal vision is that other universities would pick up the torch because, for so many survivors, the thought of going to college is ungraspable,” she said. PLNU’s five scholarship recipients prove college is not only graspable, but able to be conquered.

We can’t end human trafficking on a global scale if we don’t start in our cities, with our own hands. PLNU is doing it right, and we can too. We all have the opportunity to help survivors turn their ashes into beauty.

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About the Author

Emily James.png

Emily James is currently a junior at Azusa Pacific University, pursuing an English degree with a concentration in Writing. She has big plans to travel and see the vibrant colors of the world, and to write of the marginalized and unheard people she meets along her nomad journey (Dressember is fitting!). When she is not in class or working as an elementary reading and writing tutor, she loves to rock climb, hike, read, and watch romance movies with the girls.