After growing up near Chicago and bouncing around five different group homes and 13 foster families, Tina Thomas found the stability and sense of belonging that she lacked by enlisting in the Marines when she was 18 years old.
“Growing up in the foster care system left me feeling empty and incomplete,” she tells Rich Polt of Talking Good.
Thomas was inspired to serve after working as a peer mentor at a summer camp for children who’d been victims of abuse. Thomas, too, suffered physical and sexual abuse during her years in the foster care system, but she never lets it define her. “If I’m a victim of sexual trauma and foster care, the statistics say I’m supposed to be a certain way. But I’m me…I’m not a number,” she says.
Thomas mentored kids at the summer camp every year until its funding was eliminated, an experience that made her realize, “I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives.”
For four years, Thomas served in the Marines before struggling to find a civilian job. Finally, she landed in Washington, D.C., where she works for the Federal Aviation Administration as an administrative assistant.
The 34-year-old Thomas has never stopped serving others and is now a member of The Mission Continues’ DC 1st Service Platoon, a nonprofit that organizes veterans to solve problems and help others in their community. “All of this service work provides me with structure and growth. It keeps me motivated and gets me out there so that I can continue to make a difference,” she says.
Even though she had little support growing up, Thomas continues to be a shining example of the impact one individual can make through a commitment to service. She tells Polk she hopes her legacy will be “that even at my lowest points in life, I’ve still reached out to help others to lift them higher.”