Meet an “Everyday Hero”, Officer Melissa Trahan, Tustin PD’s Community Impact Officer. Officer Trahan, “goes above and beyond (the job) by getting to know the people and getting involved in their lives,” says Doug Hellman, Admissions Counselor for Orange County Rescue Mission. That is why I nominated Officer Trahan. She gives a caring hand up by offering, and even bringing people to the help they need at Orange County Rescue Mission. Read the article below, and be inspired by the April 10 Everyday Hero, in The Orange County Register.
Their initial meeting went like this: About two years ago, Nichols looked out the window of the Tustin motel room that she and her family of seven were calling home and saw a cop looking over her truck. Nichols had two dogs back then. Both were inside of the truck. Nichols, 62, raced outside to tell the officer that, no, she wasn’t abusing the dogs; they’d had five walks that day. But the motel had a rule about dogs, Nichols said, and, besides, between the kids and grandkids, the single-bed room was maxed out. Trahan, 47, noticed that the animals looked well-fed, so she cut Nichols a break. But she wanted to know more. Why were so many people in one room? What happened?
Nichols explained how her husband died and, a year earlier, they’d lost their Huntington Beach house. Now she had a daughter and a daughter-in-law with her, along with their four kids. Trahan left that day, but she was back soon enough. She started checking in on the grandmother and her crew. She brought small things when she came, stuff to help with their lives and their dignity.
Trahan also brought help, connections to community resources available to people struggling to get on their feet. She also eventually helped them get into a better room, one with three beds and a kitchen, so the family can cook and save money and not sleep on the floor.
Over time, Trahan and Nichols became friends. On a recent day, Trahan went back to the motel to visit Nichols. As she arrived, a middle school-aged granddaughter jumped up from the truck where she was studying to give Trahan a hug. And as Trahan stepped inside the room, Pauahi Nichols beamed. “Look at this giant kitchen,” Pauahi Nichols said. “I can cook now. We can save more money.” Nichols takes care of the surviving dog (a 10-year-old named Keala) and the grandkids. Her daughter and daughter-in-law work.
Still, it’s Trahan that Nichols credits for helping the family get out of a spiral that seemed endless. Trahan initially connected them with resources to get them back on track. Beyond that, Trahan didn’t forget about them; she stuck around and helped. She cared.
At Easter, for example, Trahan stopped in on the family, bringing baskets for the kids, along with some towels and blankets. As community impact officer – a job she’s held for about four years – Trahan is tasked with helping people who frequently call Tustin police. She encounters crimes, of course, but also runs into many others seeking help for issues ranging from homelessness to hunger. So Trahan helps people like Nichols because it’s a routine part of the job. But she’s great at it because she treats that help as anything but routine.
“Melissa goes above and beyond by getting to know the people and getting involved in their lives,” said Doug Hellman, admission manager for a program at Village of Hope that helps people transition from chronic homelessness to more stable lifestyles. “She knows how to get people out of the homeless rut,” Hellman added. “That’s normally something a counselor and therapist does. For her, instead of just enforcing the law, it’s, ‘How can I help these people change?’ “That’s gold.”
SHE GETS IT
Trahan knows about welfare. Growing up in Westminster, with a sister and a single mother, the family often needed it to get by. But she also knows about success and hard work. Trahan was an athlete growing up, playing volleyball and running track. She held the school discus record (110 feet) when she graduated from Orange High. She went to Cal State Fullerton, the first in her family to attend college, and later joined the U.S. Air Force.
After serving as a medic for four years, Trahan left the service, worked as an X-ray technician and went back to school at Golden West College. There, she met a student who had a job with the Los Angeles Police Department, Jim Katapodis. He would go on to be mayor of Huntington Beach – and the man who persuaded Trahan to become a cop. Trahan was at the LAPD for eight years, starting in South Central. But after having her second daughter, she decided to look for a job in Orange County. She started with Tustin Police as a reserve in 2003, and three years later was hired on as a school resource officer.
“I think I recognized from childhood that you need to be compassionate toward people,” Trahan said. “Whenever I arrested someone, I would ask them, ‘How did you start getting into (trouble)?’ I always felt like I wanted to know what the back story was. “I so easily could have gone down the wrong path. It always comes down to choices. Thankfully, I made the right choices.”
Nichols says she’s happy Trahan chose to help her. “It was a chance meeting that day, with the dogs, but it anchored us,” Nichols said. “We’re blessed in many ways,” she added. “Melissa is at the top of that list.”
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