Nease graduate credits ROTC for saving her life

From living out of her car in Vilano Beach to claiming the title of Ms. California, Christina Meredith seeks to help children break the cycle of abuse


Christina Meredith has a lot of names.

Published author, national speaker, National Guard sergeant and, even, Ms. California.

However, one name carries the more weight than all of them — homeless.

Just three days Meredith graduated from Allen D. Nease High School in 2005, she started living out of her car.

“I applied to all the service academies and ROTC scholarships and got rejected because I was a C student,” Meredith said. “I still wanted to do it; I was undeterred. Even when I was homeless and living in my car, I was writing in my dream journal. I knew I wanted to write a book and start a nonprofit. I’m a lot of things but I’m not a quitter.” 

Prior to being homeless, Meredith spent years in and out of foster care and struggling with both sexual and physical abuse stemming from her biological mother and stepfather. During those unimaginable years she relied on her church and ROTC teacher, Gunny Hanson.

“He basically got me though my senior year and helped me graduate,” Meredith said. “Gunny Hanson and his wife are amazing people. He saved my life for sure.”

 These days, Meredith keeps herself very busy. She is working on her second book, her nonprofit is doing extraordinary work in helping children in foster care and she is considering running for office. Meredith isn’t that scared little girl anymore. She isn’t afraid to speak out against her attackers and when she has a flashback, she finds the strength to look it in the eye and move past it.

“As a survivor of child rape and torture, I think that there is a mental grit that came come out of that,” Meredith said. “There is a tenacity and strength but there is also going to be some dark moments.”

From age of 9 years old, Meredith was sexually abused, locked in closets and physically assaulted. At 11 she was diagnosed with PTSD and finally, at 16-years-old, she was pulled from her situation after numerous calls to DCF and abuse charges filed. Meredith says the ineffectual intervention was in part due to her abuser’s political standing. She claims his involvement with the local sheriff’s department caused her case to be swept under the rug. 

“My story is unique in the sense that I had a very powerful man in my life who could cover things up,” Meredith said. “The cycle continues and corruption is real, unfortunately.” 

Christina’s memoir, “Cinder Girl: My Journey out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” chronicles her break out of that cycle.

“I'm still an orphan, I still don't have family,” Meredith said. “It's very hard even at 33. But you can still achieve a great deal. We live in America and if you work hard and don't quit, you can succeed.”

Her path turned out to not be a linear one, however. After working multiple jobs and then moving to California, Meredith was approached at a Whole Foods by a man recruiting young women for pageants. Serendipitously, that encounter would lead to her claiming the Ms. California title.

“I think that shows that god has a sense of humor,” Meredith said. “I've always been such a tomboy. I would have spitting contests with my first sergeant and I would win. There was nothing feminine about me and I didn't even go to prom. I worked a double at Firehouse Subs that night. It did bring a lot of healing that I didn’t expect and it taught me how to press through adversity.”

Meredith said her true calling, however, is with the Christina Meredith Foundation, which advocates at the federal and state levels for child welfare reform.

“It has been over a decade of work and it's really starting to take shape,” Meredith said. “It's been a dream of mine forever. I always tell kids the same thing, ‘dream big.’ Work hard and never quit. It might take you over a decade but so what? You can’t look at the circumstances you have. You have to work at what you think you were created to do, and you have to fight for it.”

For more information about Christina Meredith, her foundation or her book, “Cinder Girl,” visit,


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