The 32-year-old single mother of two knows what it is like to live in poverty, struggle with self-esteem and other socio-economic issues.
Three years ago Crystal became involved with Lambton County’s Circles program, a unique anti-poverty initiative in Sarnia-Lambton. The first program of its kind in Canada, it uses a community approach to support and befriend those who want to leave poverty behind.
“I had a pretty rough go growing up,” she says.
“If there was a bad choice to be made, I made it. Life was a constant struggle.”
Crystal started off as a Circle Leader — a person coming from generational poverty. She was matched up with mentors, including Wendy Asher, Dean, School of Community Services and Liberal Studies at Lambton College.
“They (allies) were people I could talk to and bounce ideas off. They helped give me the confidence and motivation to return to school.”
She successfully completed the program, enrolled in Lambton College and is currently a second-year student in the Social Service Worker (SSW) program.
She also obtained a certificate from the college in Human Service Foundations.
Today, Crystal has become an ally in the Circles program, serving as a mentor for others trying to escape the cycle of poverty.
She also co-facilitated the first ever Lambton College Circle.
“One of the things I share is that you might not have been dealt the best cards at birth, but you can change them. It makes my day to know I can help others.”
She says enrolling in Lambton’s SSW program was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
“The faculty here is like family. They share with us and they really care about student success. It is such a great program.”
Crystal was a winner of the W. Garfield Weston Foundation Upper Year Award, handed out to just 25 students enrolled in a Canadian college.
Along with the notoriety, the award waives the student’s tuition for two years and provides a $4,000 stipend in each of the next two years.
Winners also have access to $3,500 to put towards a four-week learning experience helping a non-profit organization located anywhere in the world.
“It was a huge honour for me and one that I can share with the folks at Circles.”
She is also a co-creator of a Gay Straight Alliance at Lambton College with a mission to make all students feel comfortable regardless of their sexuality.
“I could talk about the great things happening at this college for hours,” she says.
Looking back on her own struggles, Crystal says following graduation she wants to focus as a social worker on helping teens because it is such a key stage in one’s life.
“I’ve been through some rough times and I had some really good social workers. So I really want to help teens at risk.”
She says teens need to know that there are people out there who care, who will listen and will not judge.
“No matter what is happening today, you have the power to change tomorrow. Don’t give up.”
For more information on the Social Service Worker program at Lambton College, visit www.lambtoncollege.ca/SSWK.
For more information on the Human Service Foundations program at Lambton College, visit www.lambtoncollege.ca/HSER.
For more information on the Circles program in Lambton County, visit www.lambtoncircles.com.
For more information on the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, visit www.westonfoundation.org