Frankie, Elila, Crystal and Jesse“We had no place to live.” That’s a hard truth to accept, especially for a parent. For Crystal, a single mother with two infants and pregnant with a third, the move into the Family Promise of Morris County Emergency Shelter Program was not only a place for her family to live but also a place for them to thrive.

Crystal became homeless after her grandparents were no longer able to continue to help her and her growing family. After coming to Family Promise, staff and volunteers provided her with financial literacy education, support in completing her high school equivalency diploma, and help sorting out all those issues that come with motherhood. “I didn’t know they’d do that,” she said. “I thought it was just a place to sleep.”

Crystal began working full time while living in the shelter. In addition, she completed her GED program and received her high school equivalency diploma. Equipped with some new life skills, enjoying the sense of accomplishment that comes from achieving one’s goals and dreams, and benefiting from the on-going support of Family Promise, Crystal is now looking to further her education. Just recently, she let us know that she has begun the process of enrolling in nursing school. Crystal is so thankful for the guidance and support of the volunteers at both Family Promise and the Adopt-a-Family Program, especially Lance & Nancy Kraai.

Lance & Nancy KraaiLance & Nancy, along with a group of other volunteers that included a teacher and some young mothers with small children, worked with Crystal for 18 months to help her develop new skill sets which would allow her to thrive independently. The group focused on the following key areas: general life, financial and, just as importantly, parenting skills. “Crystal has been on her own since she was 14,” explained Lance. “She never had the chance to learn parenting within a family. It’s hard to learn discipline with children when you never had any. What is proper discipline for a 1-year-old, a 5-year-old?”

Kraai said that, as a child, Crystal saw her sister removed from their home by state authorities. In her young mind, Crystal concluded that her sister was taken because she cried too much. As a mother, he said, Crystal was determined that it would not happen to her children and she did whatever she could to stop them from crying. Working with the Adopt-a-Family volunteers, “Crystal learned how to discipline in love as a parent,” said Kraai. “She is an awesome mom – she just needed some help.”

Since leaving the Emergency Shelter Program, Crystal’s days are filled with her new job caring for an elderly person and getting her children to school and day care. “It was a boost for my confidence,” she said of her time at FamilyPromise. “That was hard for me, I didn’t have confidence. It is still hard for me.” But Crystal didn’t leave the shelter alone. Family Promise’s Community Support Program staff still supports her efforts to move forward. “I tell people that my time in the emergency shelter was good for me and my children,” she said. “My children had clothes, toys and had new people to meet. The shelter for a woman my age with children is a safe place to live.”

Now 25, Crystal said there was one very important lesson she learned while at Family Promise: “I have big plans for my family,” she said. “I realized that when I am 30 or 40, I would not be able to live the way I was living.” Family Promise is so much more than a place to sleep: it is a home base, a safe place for children, a place where parents can stop a moment and breathe, assess life’s challenges and opportunities, and make a plan for the future; it is a community of supporters, teachers and friends.

– Crystal