After Years of Hardship, Mallorie Jones Gets to Celebrate

Mallorie Jones has been on a hot streak lately. A recipient of the Women’s Philanthropy Initiative Scholarship, she became part of the first generation in her family to graduate from college when she earned her B.S. in psychology from Georgia State — with honors — on May 9. And less than a month before graduation, she found out she’d received a scholarship to pursue her master’s at Columbia University in New York. She’ll be moving there at the end of July.

“I’m really, really excited,” she says. “I went to New York for a week after I graduated from high school — we stayed in a hotel on Broadway, we saw five Broadway shows, went to the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, but I’ve never really explored the rest of the city. Columbia, the area around campus, it’ll all be new to me.”

Don’t describe Jones’ hot streak as a string of good luck, though. It came about as a result of hard work and determination — and only after a string of unfortunate events that tested her resolve and that of her entire family. At long last, though, she’s seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Always Darkest Before the Dawn

Born in west Philadelphia, Jones and her family moved to the Augusta, Ga., area when she was young. Her parents owned their own business, and she remembers the business doing very well for most of the time she was growing up.

The worldwide economic crisis of 2008, though, hit the Jones household hard. Right around the time Jones graduated from high school and prepared to begin her studies at Augusta State University, her parents had to close their business — and things only got more difficult from there.

“It took about two years for them to find new jobs,” she remembers. “I got a full-time job my freshman year to try and supplement their income, and my brother moved home from Morehouse so that he could help supplement them as well.

“In 2012 my parents both had to get minimum-wage jobs, and it was an obstacle dealing with a mortgage and having a kid in college. We were really struggling with all that.”

Jones had planned on eventually transferring to a university in a larger city with a wider array of research and internship opportunities. Her family’s financial situation wasn’t great, but eventually it stabilized enough to where she felt she could take that step and move to Georgia State. Unfortunately, the next wave of bad news was already on its way.

In July 2013, Jones’ father was rushed to the emergency room with severe stomach pains. The diagnosis: advanced-stage gastric cancer. And a family budget already stretched thin was further burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. “It was a mess,” she says.

There were times when Jones thought her dreams might have to be put on hold yet again. “It’s difficult when you feel like things are coming together in one way but only falling apart in another, but my parents were always very supportive,” she says. “And I prayed a lot. That was definitely the key element. For me, when I go through things in life and I feel like it’s all getting overwhelming, and I have no control over them, I just pray and try to get my inspiration that way. That’s what really helped me get through it.”

Good Times Today, with Even More to Come

The string of bad news was finally broken by a letter from Georgia State’s Scholarship Resource Center. Jones learned that she’d been awarded the Women’s Philanthropy Initiative Scholarship, which meant that the rest of her tuition for the next semester was taken care of. For someone who’d faced as many obstacles as she had, that letter was about more than just money — it was about hope.

“It was such a relief, because I knew that I could keep going,” she says. “As a student, you know that in order to achieve your degree — no matter how much you want to obtain it — you have to have the funds. So when you don’t have the funds, it’s so much anxiety and worry. But now I had the resources to keep reaching for my goals.”

Rather than anxiety, Jones was finally able to focus on opportunity. And she found plenty of it. With the help of the Theresa Nash Bernstein Scholarship in International Travel, she was able to do a six-week study-abroad trip to Costa Rica and Panama. As a student in the Honors College, she started work on her Honors Thesis in psychology, and she also secured an internship in the psychiatry department at the Emory University School of Medicine. The focus of her work: post-traumatic stress disorder among armed service members.

“The town that I grew up in is Grovetown, Ga., and it’s right around a military base, Fort Gordon. A lot of my friends in high school were military kids, and a lot of them had parents with PTSD,” Jones says. “And when I was a manager at a McDonald’s in Grovetown for three years, I met a lot of military people, and I found out from them how difficult it is living with PTSD.

“It has such long-term consequences. It’s something that requires a lot of time to rehabilitate, so it’s something that’s going to be relevant in our country for a long time,” she says. “I want to help these people. They dedicate their lives to helping me, and I want to dedicate my life to rehabilitating them.”

Jones got another burden taken off of her mind recently when she found out her father’s cancer had gone into remission. After years of hardship and struggle, she and her family are finally getting a chance to revel in some good news.

“When I found out that I’d gotten into Columbia, I called both of my parents, crying hysterically,” Jones recalls with a smile. “My mom thought that something was wrong, so she was concerned, but after she found out she started screaming. She was at work, so she had to get off the phone, and then I called my dad. My dad started screaming, and then he hung up on me. Then he would call back every two or three minutes screaming and hang up again.”

In a speech she gave at the Women’s Philanthropy Initiative reception in February, Jones expressed her gratitude to the Georgia State supporters who’d stood by her through both the good and the bad times and helped her get where she is today. “It is because of these donors that I will be equipped and qualified to make a difference in a world that is in desperate need of a compassionate heart and a listening ear,” she said. “With the support of the Women’s Philanthropy Initiative donors, I am one step closer to being the change that the world truly needs.”