Become a Mentor
Teens Look to Christal for Guiding Light
The chandelier above Christal’s dining room table illuminates a house that is virtually spotless. But this sparkle pales in comparison to the bright futures she offers her foster kids.
Many teenagers have spent time living under Christal’s roof; some for a short time, others long enough to finally have a place to call home. Over the years she has changed the lives of many, but she is not one to keep track of personal success. To her, it’s all part of a lifelong responsibility—a calling, if you will.
“The way I look at it is that everyone who was in my house was meant to be here,” said Christal, who was recently honored by Massachusetts MENTOR for her outstanding contributions to the lives of young people in foster care. “Each kid is different. When they leave here, if they can take just one thing with them, then I did what I was supposed to do.”
Christal has been part of Massachusetts MENTOR’s Therapeutic Foster Care program since 2003. She is a mother, grandmother, and foster parent. Some may even call her a saint. With her sons now grown and making lives of their own, her Dorchester residence is home to two boys: 14-year-old Armani and a 19-year-old who found his way into Christal’s home after fleeing his native country.
Like all of those who have considered Christal a Mentor, these two young men come from troubled childhoods. They quickly learned that Christal’s kindness is accompanied by a set of rules and responsibilities with which they were not familiar.
“I’m tough, but I’m fair,” she said. “And sometimes that’s what they need.”
Along with the chance to head in the right direction come chores, like helping Christal maintain her squeaky-clean house. It’s just one part of living with “Miss Christal,” as they call her. They know it’s as much about respect and discipline as it is about cleanliness.
“She takes care of us like her own,” said the 19-year-old, who attends a day/evening academy while awaiting his working papers and an opportunity to fulfill his dream of attending college. “I know kids from other foster homes and it’s not the same where they live. Miss Christal does this from the kindness of her heart. She’s taught me the importance of responsibility and now I enjoy cleaning my room and being more independent.”
By doing things Christal’s way, the teens are rewarded with love and a sense of family that is otherwise missing from the lives of many foster children. For Christal, there’s no such thing as foster care—there’s only family. That means treating every child that comes into her home like one of her own, and standing beside them no matter how difficult their challenges might be.
Last fall, Armani was the target of bullying rituals known as “Hood Rounds.” On several occasions, he either got into fights or had personal items, like his school bag and jacket, taken from him on the bus home from school. When Christal realized what was happening she immediately took the issue to the school’s assistant principal.
“She fights for her kids,” Christal’s clinical supervisor Tracey Pierre said. “Christal reported the bullying and took all the necessary actions to keep Armani safe.”
Christal is known throughout her community; not just by her neighbors, but by the police, local officials, and members of her church congregation. She makes her voice heard. For that reason, people know her kids. The police—should they see one of them in the neighborhood—even remind the kids of the opportunity they are getting in having Christal as a Mentor.
“She doesn’t just bring kids into her home, she brings them into the community,” Massachusetts MENTOR program service coordinator Dana Catrambone said. “With Christal, it’s like they have an extended family of people to turn to for support.”
Christal is always aware, though, that these kids come from families of their own. She goes to great lengths to keep those ties tight and helps her foster children see their families whenever possible.
It’s easy to see the impact that Christal has made. Just ask any of her former foster children, who still keep in touch and remind her that she forever changed their lives. Christal is the one who provided them hope. She provided that bright, guiding light.
“I have compassion for young people,” she said. “In the end, if I can help one person, then all of my work is worthwhile.”