For Kim Berry Jones (90), director of PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR), helping marginalized groups is a calling that requires research, dedication, and care. When the PLNU alumna first connected with the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, she had been volunteering for Generate Hope, a San Diego-based nonprofit helping sex trafficking survivors find long-term housing, therapy, education, and vocational support. 

Sex trafficking is a prevalent form of modern-day slavery—even in San Diego where $810 million is made from sex trafficking. There is an estimated number of annual victims between 3,400 and 8,100 in San Diego. The United States national average age of entering into sex trade is between 13 and 16 years old. 

Collaborating with “direct service providers,” law enforcement, and survivors, the CJR determined that human trafficking survivors often wish they had the opportunity for a college education. For many survivors, attending college is a dream that seems unlikely to come true.

“A large reality of someone surviving sex trafficking,” Jones said, “is that there’s very little hope. It’s like a trap that’s impossible to get out of. There’s very little dreaming because there are so few ways out.”

The Beauty for Ashes scholarship started with a simple idea—what if a survivor of sex trafficking could receive a scholarship to completely fund their studies toward a bachelor’s degree at PLNU?

As wonderful an idea as it was, Jones and CJR knew there would be challenges—especially financial ones. PLNU fully supported the program, but the scholarship would have to be 100% donor-funded.

The Beauty for Ashes Scholarship fund was launched in 2014. CJR fundraised an incredible $65,000 in 40 days. The first “survivor scholar,” as Jones cordially calls the recipients of the scholarship, started in January 2016. Since then, they have had three students graduate through that program.

As important as college education is, Jones believes empowerment is much more important for these survivors. It’s about more than providing college classes—it’s about helping survivors build new lives.

“It’s not easy going to college with trauma,” she said. “Nurturing their whole person is so important. We want to convey that they matter and have a future.”

One way she helps create this environment is “having an open door that doesn’t close.” Often, survivors of trafficking expect any good thing to come with a catch. CJR has striven to create a scholarship that has no obligation. Recipients are free to walk away if they need to and come back later, too. Jones has seen this help students believe more completely that it’s a free gift to help enrich their life—no strings attached.

“It’s not easy going to college with trauma. Nurturing their whole person is so important. We want to convey that they matter and have a future.”

Anonymity is also a key factor for the Beauty for Ashes program. Although the survivors are welcome to share their story, they are not required to in any capacity. Information about the Beauty for Ashes recipients’ circumstances and student information are only shared on a need-to-know basis.

Jones explained that some barriers to their education don’t surface until they go to college. Some trafficking survivors have food, housing, and mental health concerns.

Due to these factors, the Center for Justice and Reconciliation helps students plan a successful pathway to PLNU through a community college. This means that every Beauty for Ashes scholarship recipient begins their time at PLNU as a transfer student.

Additionally, CJR partnered with the Kinesiology and Integrated Wellness program to create the Flourish Academy, a program based on the idea that there are skills expected of adults that aren’t inherent—like proper nutrition, coping mechanisms, hygiene, and financial skills. Flourish Academy pledges to “empower survivors to pursue their healing through the lens of emotional, spiritual, physical, social, intellectual, environmental, and financial health.” 

CJR invests in the survivor scholars’ post-undergraduate life as well. Jones happily reports that several students majored in social work and have built careers out of helping other at-risk individuals and minors. Some even take interest in joining CJR.

“We want to walk the walk of empowering survivors,” Jones said. “Even employ them, if possible.”

“The biggest concern is how we can support and sustain students. We never want to turn anyone away.”

With over 750 donors who have given to the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, Jones has been thrilled at the support this program has gotten. Yet, finances are an ever-present issue as CJR seeks to have the scholarship available to more survivors.

“The biggest concern is how we can support and sustain students,” Jones said. “We never want to turn anyone away.”

The Center for Justice and Reconciliation’s annual Hope Rising event helps to fundraise for the Beauty for Ashes scholarship. The aptly named event helps provide much more than money. It’s about providing hope and the knowledge that survivors are not alone. CJR invites anyone interested to join in supporting the Beauty for Ashes scholarship program. You can also get involved with other events and projects from the San Diego Foundation that are combating local trafficking.

Toby Franklin is a reader and writer of speculative fiction and comic books. He loves alluring stories, especially if they come from unexpected places. "Mask of the Sentinels," the graphic novel he co-created with his twin brother, is available now on ComiXology.