Against All Odds – A Family Rising from Poverty to Help Others Do the Same

December 9, 2021
By Zoey Moore
, POL Intern & Eighth Grader at Ridgeview Junior High
with a few additions by Editor Rachel Scofield

Melinda and Jason Clay overcame impoverished childhoods and a teenage pregnancy to provide a good life for their children. Now the family’s non-profit organization, Against All Odds, is helping other low income families make a brighter future for their own kids.
From left to right (back row) Alex Santiago (Melanie Clay’s boyfriend) holding Lola Amor Santiago, Melanie Clay, Erica Zogleman (“Little” Jason’s girlfriend), “Little” Jason Clay, “Big” Jason Clay, Marissa Clay holding Ransome Clay, and Ira Roberts. Front row, Rebecca Clay, and Melinda Clay hugging Maranda Clay.
A little boy named Peyton clings to Santa during an event hosted by Against All Odds.

“Peyton’s love for Santa was out of this world and even Santa is still talking about Peyton. Merry Christmas Peyton, you have brought as much joy to our holidays as we have to yours,” Melinda

Against All Odds is an organization started by Pickerington resident Melinda Clay to help kids in need receive the supplies and attention they deserve.

“Children need attention,” Melinda said. “They are not always getting what they need from home, so they look for it elsewhere. It is usually found in doing negative things in the neighborhoods or committing crimes and the next thing they know, they are another child with a record and without a future. They are a statistic”.

Melinda’s goal for this organization is to help kids have a good start in life, unlike her own childhood.

Melinda Carroll Clay’s life began in rural Kentucky as the product of a teenage pregnancy. Her mother was only 12 years old when she quit school and got married. Melinda’s father left when she was five and the family moved to the Franklinton, Ohio.

According to Statistic Atlas, more than a fourth of Franklinton’s residents aged 25 and older lack a high school diploma and most families live below the poverty line.

In junior high Melinda met a boy with a childhood similar to her own, named Jason Clay, and the two fell deeply in love. They went practically everywhere together, and when they were apart, they stayed connected by phone.

Melinda and Jason as teenagers.

Melinda felt safe with Jason. However, the couple soon faced a challenge. Melinda got pregnant in the eighth grade. Jason stayed by her side, but the pregnancy was still difficult.

Melanie was born on September 25, 1993 when Melinda was 14. Melinda promised to provide her daughter a good childhood. Melanie’s life would not become another negative statistic.

Melinda began homeschooling herself so that she could return to class for her freshman year. It was hard to stay away from Melanie, but she had to keep her promise.

At age 16, while attending school and caring for Melanie, Melinda began working as a nursing assistant. With support from both her mother and Jason, Melinda was able to skip her junior year at Columbus South High School yet still graduate as valedictorian. She was also awarded the Science Merit Award and was voted Best Scholar.

The family’s first portrait

Melinda received scholarship offers from a variety of colleges. She chose to attend the Mount Camel College of Nursing because it was within walking distance of her house.

“Each minute in traffic would be a minute not spent with my family,” Melinda said.

Being a teenage mom, going to college and working as a nursing assistant was “the hardest point” of her life but Jason was by her side at every step. On May 25, 2001, Melinda received her nursing bachelor’s degree and she has been working as a nurse since 2003. Melinda fulfilled her promise to become someone who Melanie could look up to.

On September 27, 2009, Melinda and Jason were married. The couple recently celebrated 30 years of being together.

“Jason has been there since I was 12 and we’ve been together ever since,” Melinda said. “He’s my first and last boyfriend…now my husband.”

Melinda’s high school graduation with Melanie

The couple went on to raise five more children, Marissa and Rebecca (both age 18), Jason (17), Maranda (8) and baby Ransome who is about to turn two.

As for Melanie, she “is great,” Melinda said. “She works at Riverside with me. She bought a house at 27 an had her first baby last year. She broke the teenage pregnancy cycle”

Melinda had successfully ended the pattern of poverty for her family, but her thoughts continued to return to Franklinton. She and Jason had found a good life, but what about everyone else? What about the kids still struggling to get by?

Back in Kentucky, Melinda’s grandmother, Mary Blevin, ran an organization that helped children in need. Melinda decided she could follow in Mary’s footsteps and create a similar nonprofit here in Central Ohio.

“I’m following in her footsteps,” Melinda said. “She was my favorite person in the world and she passed away.”

Melinda, her mother Linda Carroll, Melanie and Melinda’s grandmother, Mary Blevin, at Melinda’s pinning ceremony for nursing.

In 2016, Melinda created Against All Odds, a non-profit that provides kids in low-income neighborhoods with necessities such as school supplies, book bags, clothes, shoes, personal hygiene items and gifts for holidays.

“I want to empower underprivileged children in the Franklinton area and other neighborhoods to overcome statistics and become a productive and successful part of the community,” Melinda said.

“I truly do it for the smiles and to help because I never had anyone like me growing up,” Melinda said. “I have done so many baby showers for teen moms because people already judge them enough and most come from homes that can’t afford it.”

Against All Odds does not yet receive a lot of donations but Melinda still “works her butt off” to ensure the organization meets the goals that it sets for each event.

“I came from nothing and it’s easy to be nothing,” she said. “It’s hard to become something when you have so much against you but becoming something – no one can take that from you. Against all odds or not, I have to do what I can to help these girls and these kids succeed.”

For the holidays, Against All Odds is collecting toys and snacks to distribute at various hot spots in Franklinton on Sunday, December 12. To contribute you can donate to the organization’s Fundly page or purchase items on the Against All Odds Amazon Wish List.  As of December 12, the charity still needed candy and popcorn.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be distributing toys and treats at hot spots in Franklinton on Sunday, December 12. Their trip made possible by Against All Odds.

“Each kid will get a toy and candy cane,” Melinda said. “Teens will get a treat bag because I don’t think I’ll get enough candy to make all 500 candy bags I have so I’ll just give them to teens. If we have gifts left after hitting all the hot spots then we will travel to the Hilltop, but to be sure to see us, be at one of the hot spots just in case we run out of gifts and time.”

Against All Odds hosts activities year round.

In 2019 Against All Odds hosted an Easter event where volunteers distributed 145 filled baskets as well as more than 20 raffle gifts and two extra-large filled baskets.

“We had over 200 crafts, 300 bags of cotton candy, 240 hot dogs and chips, and over 300 juices and sodas and 168 cupcakes for those in need,” Melinda said.

Although she considered the event a success, she still felt heartbroken for all of the families who didn’t receive an easter basket. This Easter, the organization will strive to fill another 300 baskets.

For Thanksgiving last year, the organization donated almost 25 meals.

“At Halloween, we pass out costumes and then I’m a one stop shop for candy…and hot cocoa. And we usually do pumpkin party too where kids come get a pumpkin and costume,” Melinda said.

Please follow Against All Odds on Facebook.