Missy Melton, 65, is finally realizing her dream to help care for human-trafficking victims.
And she says the USC Lancaster TRIO program is a big reason she finally got to do the work she has dreamed of for years.
“Since starting with TRIO, I have accomplished everything that I set out to accomplish,” Melton said. “I have many friends that have come through these doors that I will be lifelong friends with.”
Caring for others has always been a huge part of who Melton is. She cares for all who come her way. But now Melton is using her criminal justice degree to help abuse victims in Rock Hill, especially those most vulnerable — human-trafficking victims.
While Melton was never trafficked, she was a victim of child abuse and sexual assault growing up, as well as domestic violence. Instead of keeping silent about her abuse, Melton decided to take her years of bad and turn it to good.
“I know I can help others” in that situation, Melton said. “Because I know what they go through.”
Growing up, Melton wanted to be a police officer. She went to one semester of college as a young adult, but sickness kept her from finishing her degree.
Years later, at 62, Melton decided to enroll at USCL in 2019 as a nontraditional student. Melton knew she couldn’t be a police officer at her age. She decided to get a criminal justice degree to work with agencies that would fight for justice and care for abuse victims. Melton wanted to work in the aftercare of human-trafficking victims.
Melton didn’t know what to expect coming into USCL. Would the students be kind to her? Would she know how to handle classes after so many years out of school?
But Melton had no reason to worry, she soon found out. All the students treated her with kindness and helpfulness, and the TRIO program helped Melton gain confidence on campus.
TRIO is a federally funded program at USCL that helps students on their college journey. USCL offers two TRIO programs — Opportunity Scholars Program (OSP) and Upward Bound. OSP is for college students, and Upward Bound is for high schoolers.
Melton enrolled in OSP and could not be more grateful for her decision. It gave her both emotional and academic support while at USCL. Whenever she felt like things were impossible, the staff was there to help her “every step of the way,” she said.
They helped Melton choose her classes, helped build her resume, led her to scholarships, lent listening ears to her struggles, connected her to other services that could help her in any particular situation she needed help in, took her on free educational trips around America and allowed her a space to tell her story on campus and raise awareness of abuse victims.
“Being with this program, it’s given me the opportunity for internships,” Melton said. “I was in an internship with Tommy Pope. I was recognized in the state of South Carolina in the House of Representatives. I have had so many honors and awards, and I do attribute all of that to being involved with TRIO.”
Melton was also the president of the Women’s DEFINE Group at USCL, and she started an organization right before graduating called LAST, which stands for Lancers Against Sexual Trafficking.
This spring, Melton graduated with a 3.927 GPA, a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and an associate degree in criminal justice. Last year, she earned associate degrees in science and arts.
In just three years, Melton graduated with a four-year degree and excelled even in subjects she found most difficult. She credits all of this to the TRIO program.
“I’m so committed to coming back and helping them at any time that I can,” Melton said. “This is one program on campus that I think all students should take advantage of.”
She believes it would be a huge mistake for students not to be a part of TRIO if they qualify for it.
“It’s one of the most fantastic programs and your basic foundation for the rest of your time here while you’re at the university,” Melton said. “This is almost like your second home, and the people here treat you like family.”