Trina Carswell, 42
Born and raised in the Flint area, grew up in Beecher currently living in Flint
March 3, 2015
“I want to go from surviving to thriving, not just barely surviving.”
Trina’s laugh and smile could light up a room. She walked us through Carriage Town Ministries’ Family Center showing us around and sharing a bit about what she did as we toured the facility.
From first appearance, we would have never guessed Trina’s rocky background or her long journey to get to where she is today. Trina, who is now the director of Women’s Ministries at Carriage Town, was welcoming, gracious, humble and truthful.
Her heart overflowed for what she could for others and use her past to shape others’ futures. After hearing her story, we can’t wait to see how Trina will help build up Flint and its people.
We were thankful for her openness and her strength.
Here is Trina’s story:
Trina’s story starts when she was just a child. She was No. 4 out of 15 siblings.
She started looking for love in all the wrong places at a young age and that led her down a path of drugs, cocaine and multiple pregnancies until she hit a point of ultimate desperation that changed her life.
And even though it’s still been a rocky journey, she’s alive to tell about and to encourage and inspire others from her experiences.
Trina grew up in Beecher. Her family was raised in the church. Her mother was a missionary. Her stepfather was a deacon.
Growing up, her parents were very strict. And even though they grew up in the church, it was a very abusive home, Trina said. Her mother was abused by the hands of her stepfather, and she was also physically abused for years.
She struggled with rejection issues after her dad left when she was really young.
Then at 13, everything changed.
“I decided at about 13 years old I wanted to see what’s happenin’. I wanted to see what’s happenin’ out there,” Trina told us.
“So about 13 I decided to start getting with the wrong crowd, looking for love in all the wrong places. I became pregnant with my first son at 13 years old. Gave birth at 14. Shortly thereafter I left home about 15. Became pregnant with my second child at 15. Still seriously searching.”
That rejection and searching led her to her boyfriend — a drug dealer, woman abuser and drug addict.
She thought she was in love. So she began using drugs to make memories with him.
It’s not like she didn’t have another future ahead of her. She was — she is — intelligent. At the time she was an honor roll student and in honors society, among other things.
“But I had no idea that I really was a smart person. I had no idea of the intelligence. So I dropped out of high school. I think I was in 11th grade,” she said. “At the age of 16 began using crack cocaine. At that point I had two children. I had my third child at 17. Used crack cocaine on and off for about five years.”
Trina ended up having eight children with five different fathers. Her kids range from ages 12 to 28.
It was when she was pregnant with her fourth child, still living with her boyfriend that she realized she wanted more than the life she was living.
She had three children, one on the way. She was living in a bad situation, in poverty.
In 1991, when Trina was 21 or 22 she stopped doing crack … just like that.
She was pregnant with her fourth child.
“I don’t know what changed. I remember sitting in my apartment and we were getting high and I had this belly and I just remember crying and begging him I didn’t want a crack baby.
“I trusted him so much in what he said and trusted him and believed him when he told me I wouldn’t have a crack baby. I just remember stopping and I haven’t used crack in 23 years. I don’t know what came over me. I know I’m a miracle.”
The next year in 1992 Trina finally left him. Although, it took 10 years to finally cut all ties with him and do away with the control he had over her.
At age 23, Trina became saved and gave her life to God.
Still her life was filled with ups and downs, but she was determined to make her life greater and to help others along the way.
Road to a better life
When Trina got clean, she knew her life has more of a purpose. She needed more in her life.
“It’s been a long journey. I dropped out of high school so of course, here I am with no education,” Trina said. “And then I went back in about 92 or 93 and I did receive my GED from the Beecher Adult School. I went in there and passed without even studying. … That was just a blessing from God.”
Trina was 20.
She started her journey of working for a living since before then she had always been on the system.
“I just started working and found out there was another life out there other than being in your home and the same people going no where. The same people doing drugs and a new boyfriend, new boyfriend,” Trina told us. “It was a new life out there, really, it was like there was people outside. It was just a whole new life. and I just started working and I enjoyed it.”
She enjoyed having her kids in childcare with their peers and having a set schedule. Life for Trina was evolving.
She started college, but that got difficult with having that many kids, she said.
Fast forward to 2007. Trina had all eight of her children at that point. She walked into Carriage Town Ministries with no experience and only a GED. She almost didn’t go for the interview.
“I had a nightmare the night before thinking the executive director was going to say ‘Get out of my office. Why are you wasting my time? You’re dumb. Why would you dare come in?’”
Even though she was afraid and self-conscious, she went. But only so her friend who recommended her wouldn’t look bad. She didn’t think she had the worth to move her life forward.
“But I came and she hired me on the spot as a director. I was coming for a receptionists job. She hired me as a director. I’m like, are you serious?,” Trina said. “I know it was just God that touched her heart. She hired me as a director over the kitchen. I didn’t cook at all… she hired me anyways.”
Her first job was over community services. After doing that for four years, she was asked to become the director of the Family Life Center.
“I tried to run from it. I was so afraid. I was so scared. I didn’t think I wouldn’t be able to do a good job. I said ‘No” at first,” she told us.
But others saw her worth. They saw her kindness, her dedication, her intelligence and her love for others.
During orientations she shows women a photo of her holding her first son, Marvin. On the back she wrote who she was then. Her staff found it and wrote on it “Our fearless leader.”
“But that girl in that picture, oh man, she would have never imagined anyone thinking she was a fearless leader. … My self esteem was zero. I didn’t have any self worth at all. Now I know who I am. I know who I am in Christ.”
Using her past to help others
Trina’s journey has not been easy. She has made difficult and bad decisions along the way.
But her past does not define her. She now wants to use her past, her journey to help others find a better path in life.
“I love working with women and children. This is a dream come true. It is a privilege for me to serve these these women and their children,” Trina said. “There’s some hard days. The hardest days is where you can see where they’re going. You see the hole at the end of the road, but they are going full speed and you can’t stop them.
“But we just try to make the best of the time that we have them. Just to try and show them that we love them first.”
Trina tells the women she can relate to them.
She then asks them if they’re tired of being on a hamster wheeling, going in circles, going nowhere. She asked them to do a self-evaluation. What do they want? What do they enjoy doing? How do we get to that other side?
Trina’s future plans are to own and operate her own facility called City of Refuge. It will be for the families of addicts, for spouses, parents and children.
Trina, herself, is married to an addict. She knows what it’s like. And she wants to take her experiences, her loving spirit and her determination to make a difference in the city of Flint and in the lives of those who need it.
“And even though I was an addict I had no idea what the family felt like. But now I’ve found out first hand,” Trina said. “I’ve taken that pain and kind of put some energy around it and we’re going to use it.”
A support system is very important to be successful, Trina said. She needs and has a strong support system, but she wants to offer that others.
“You can’t do it by yourself. That is my desire,” she said. “It will be a facility where they can be restored and they will learn about enablement, things like that. They will learn about Jesus Christ.”
Trina has a vision book. Her vision includes an auditorium, a strong education piece in order to empower families. It will include counseling, so they understand it’s not their fault and they are not their family member’s savior. But it will also be a place where they have rest and peace.
“They will see they are not alone. You need to be around people who understand,” she said. “And the children will be loved. And our goal is that they decide not to take the same routes and not hold themselves responsible.”
Trina wants to offer hope to families. She wants to bring them a sense of comfort and a hope that the future is bright.
“That’s what I want to offer another family. That you can get through this. You’re going to get through this,” she said.
“I am so strong”
Trina believes good things are coming her way. She now believes she has purpose.
“My future is bright. I see me now as healthy. I definitely have been tested. … I just feel healthy. I feel good. I’m at peace. I’m not in torment. It’s a good place to be.”
Getting to this place has not been easy for Trina. She has had to find peace after being abused as a child and when she got older. She has struggled with drug addictions and a controlling boyfriend.
She has had to figure how to be a mom to eight children, starting at the age of 14.
But today, today is different. She has found who she is in Christ and she is finding ways every day to move her life forward.
This month she will start back at college to study social work in hopes of being a substance abuse counselor.
She’s taking ministry classes to minister in the jail and she will pursuing a nonprofit status for City of Refuge. And she wants to purchase a home within the next year. It’s time, she said,
She used to compare herself to others and be intimidated by other professionals.
“I’m learning ‘Be you.’ You love to have fun. You love to laugh. I’m approachable. Don’t change that,” she told us.
If she had to go back and tell her 13-year-old self something, Trina knew exactly what she would say.
“Oh my God, go to school! Girl, I will whoop you. You better go to school. … Go to school and that you are loved. So loved. God loves you,” Trina said. “I would hug her.”
Through this journey, Trina learned a lot of things. She learned what it really means to find love and what it really means to loves others.
She learned who she is and what she is capable of.
What else did she learn?
“I’m strong. I am so strong. And I have learned that I don’t give up on people,” she said. “I am strong. Because it’s been hard. It’s been really hard. The kids and doing it on your own for so many years.
All these babies looking at you and you don’t know how you’re going to feed them or how you’re going to pay the bills and walking in the rain and the snow and catching those buses just to keep pressing when I could have just gave up.
“Even through all of it I was still a good person. I was a mess but I was a good person.
I just wanted to be loved so bad.”
Her message to everyone going through something that may seem impossible to get back: It is possible.
“I want to go from surviving to thriving, not just barely surviving.”
Thank you Trina for telling your story. You are an inspiration. We pray that all your dreams become realities. We fully expect you to make an impact on this city, much bigger than you could ever expect.
This is the 12th story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at Flintstories@gmail.com.
Everyone has a story. We are listening.