Growing up in 13 different foster homes and the pain of physical and sexual abuse left Tina Thomas feeling empty and incomplete. But Tina is a survivor and no longer can be defined by her past.

Fate intervened in her teen years when, despite never having broken the law, she was assigned a probation officer, Mary Beth Ryan. That summer, Ryan asked Tina to be a peer mentor at a special camp for abused girls. It changed her life forever.

“That weekend was the first time I felt needed, and that I belonged,” she told Talking Good, a website that profiles people who make a difference in their communities. “It is also when I realized that I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives.”

In 1999, two weeks after graduating high school, Tina enlisted in the Marines. She served for four years, stationed in Camp Pendleton, just off the Pacific Coast in southern California. Military service not only allowed Tina to grow as an individual and a professional, but it provided her with a sense of belonging, something she yearned for as a child.

Now 34-years-old, she wants people to know that no person should be defined by their past: “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.”

Tina with daughter, Arianna

In 2013, Tina moved to Washington, DC, along with her 11-year-old daughter Arianna. She works at the Federal Aviation Administration, but continues to serve her community as a volunteer, often alongside her daughter. She also joined The Mission Continues’ DC, a service group for veterans that tackles malnutrition and obesity in the nation’s capital. “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.”

Last week, The Meredith Vieira Show chose to honor Tina for her service, with a touching video, and a surprise check for $10,000. Watch the video below…

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