When you first meet Crystal, she seems mature beyond her 18 years. She has a quiet and modest grace that she maintains as she tickles her 15 month old daughter, Kiana. Kiana giggles and squirms with joy. When Mother/Infant Program Director Christine Leon notes Crystal’s achievement of obtaining a GED with “she got the best score of any resident we’ve ever had,” Crystal shyly bows her head and smiles.
Crystal lost her parents when she was three and was raised by her grandmother in Jamaica. At the age of 15, Crystal moved to New York City to join her sister in search of new opportunities. But life here did not turn out as she had expected. When Crystal’s sister became unable to care for her own small children, Crystal dropped out of high school to care for them. Then, she herself became pregnant. As soon as other family members and the local social service department learned of the situation, Crystal’s niece and nephew were taken in by an aunt, and new mom Crystal came to a Leake & Watts Mother/Infant Residence.
In a home with eight other teen mothers and their babies, Crystal was able to properly focus on caring for herself and her baby. “Staff motivated me to do more. They taught me to go to school, stay in school, and get as much help as I can.” Crystal says she has learned about “how to help a cranky kid at bedtime or when they are picky eaters. Kids need love, attention, and guidance. I didn’t know much about parenting. The staff helps us and guides us.”
While Crystal works or goes to school, Kiana is safe at home in the nursery in the daycare program provided at the Residence. “I feel comfortable leaving her here.” Crystal has also had the opportunity to see a glimpse into Kiana’s future while working as a summer camp counselor.
Crystal is excited to begin the next chapter of her life – college. She’s completed Certified Nurse Training so she can work as a Nurse’s Aide and will be studying nursing at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She understands that attending college and caring for Kiana at the same time will be a challenge. “Kiana is walking. She’s everywhere and into everything!,” Crystal smiles. But even still, she is determined to move forward.