In a metropolitan area as big as Dallas-Fort Worth, poverty lives in plain sight on roadsides and under overpasses. As commuters pass by, seeing their less fortunate peers struggle with homelessness in broad daylight, they tend to look the other way. It’s not like no one wants to help; most simply don’t know where to start. As an Irving, Texas, native, Henry Hernandez ’21 grew up seeing the same scenes of homelessness in his community and wanted to do something about it. Something big.
When he was 17 years old, Hernandez launched the nonprofit “Project Sheltering Jesus” with help from his parents, his youth pastor, his youth group and local businesses. He and the project’s participants filled large boxes with toiletries, jackets and other necessities. Every Sunday, they made their rounds distributing the boxes to those without homes in the area, eventually helping more than 100 community members. The program is still operating today.
Service Over Self
Hernandez’s commitment to selfless service earned him a distinguished finalist position in the Prudential Spirit of Community awards program as well as official recognition from the Texas House of Representatives. He doesn’t brag about these awards, though, because he finds helping others to be its own reward—a trait imparted to him by his family. “My parents always told me to value service over self,” Hernandez said. “They taught me to serve those around me without expecting something in return.”
Family has always been at the heart of Hernandez’s life. “I credit my older sister for encouraging me to start Project Sheltering Jesus in the first place,” he said. “She challenged me to find out how I could better impact those around me. Even now, she plays a big role in asking the tough questions and keeping me from becoming complacent wherever I am.”
Though his family set a shining example for his life, there was one field in which Hernandez would have to set his own example. His parents encouraged him from the onset to pursue higher education, but neither of them had attended college themselves. Though he knew he could count on his parents to help him with living expenses, Hernandez still wanted to secure as much assistance as he could to handle tuition costs. That assistance would arrive from an Aggie couple who carried the same selfless spirit as him.
A Gift for Their Fathers
Christina ’82 and Jim Trolinger ’81 each came across Texas A&M University from serendipitous personal connections. Christina’s family attended an Aggie football game through an invitation from their neighbors, who had a son in the Corps of Cadets. Jim’s father worked for the Shamrock Oil & Gas company (now Diamond Shamrock, a subsidy of Valero), and Jim became acquainted with the company’s then-president James Harold Dunn. Dunn was also the president of The Association of Former Students at the time, and he saw a potential Aggie in six-year-old Jim. Dunn took him on a visit to Aggieland, sparking a relationship with the school that would last a lifetime.
The couple met when Jim was a senior and Christina was a freshman. They got married a year later, after Jim graduated with a degree in industrial marketing. Christina transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington to finish her journalism degree while Jim entered a successful industrial distribution career. After a long tenure representing manufacturing company Swagelok, Jim retired in 2013 and the couple moved to their current home in Savannah, Georgia.
In 2008, they pledged $100,000 to establish their first scholarship through the Texas A&M Foundation, the Jim ’81 and Christina ’82 Endowed Regents’ Scholars Award. Regents’ Scholarships support first-generation undergraduates whose total family income is less than $40,000 per year. “We were inspired to create a scholarship by our fathers and by our experiences at Texas A&M,” Christina said. “Our fathers were both the first in their families to attend college, so we felt that supporting a first-generation student was a fitting way to honor their legacies.”
When Hernandez received his acceptance letter to Texas A&M, he also learned that he would receive a full Regents’ Scholarship. Thanks to the Trolingers’ endowed gift, Hernandez is pursuing a finance degree at Mays Business School without having to take on the full financial burden of his schooling. He plans on entering the corporate world after graduation, but dreams of establishing his own large-scale nonprofit one day.
So far, Hernandez has learned not only from textbooks, but also from the new experiences Texas A&M has presented him. While his sister graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington, Hernandez was the first in his family to leave home and family behind to attend college. “That was the biggest challenge for me coming into college,” he said. “I’m a family-oriented person, so leaving the people that I lived with for 18 years was tough. But it made me the person who I am right now.”
Hernandez talks about every obstacle he’s overcome this way—as if they were opportunities all along. He doesn’t brag about his resilience as much as he expresses gratitude for every chance he’s had to grow as a friend, brother, son and student.
Of course, Hernandez also expresses gratitude for the Trolingers’ selflessness, and has kept in contact with them since he received their scholarship. “Henry is very motivated to grow himself, give back to others and support his family,” Jim said. “I like to describe investing in young people like him as ‘planting shade trees.’ You may never sit under the spreading canopy of that tree, but others will for many years to come.”
“If you had asked me if I was excited for college a year and a half ago,” Hernandez reflected, “I would’ve told you I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. But now, I’m just incredibly thankful to be here. I’m so in awe of the blessings in my life and of what one scholarship did for me.”
To learn more about the Regents’ Scholars program and how you can make a difference for a first-generation student, contact Marcy Ullmann ’86 at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-6383.