Crystal Sanders had few resources to build a new life after she moved from Kentucky to Newton County with her two small children. Determined not to let her past define her future, she actively sought the help she needed and now leads others along the same path she walked.
Although Crystal Sanders has endured numerous obstacles in her life, she serves as a success story to many. She faced a difficult path as a high-school dropout who struggled to find stable work. Now, she devotes her time to sharing the resources she discovers with others. Sanders’ search for help as a Covington newcomer led her to connect with the Newton County Housing Authority, a GED program at Georgia Piedmont Technical College and Newton Family Connection—a 501(c)3 nonprofit collaborative of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership.
The state established GFCP in 1996 to meet the needs of families and children. Executive director Laura Bertram and program director Mollie Melvin operate Newton Family Connection, which serves as a clearinghouse of resources for individuals and organizations in the community. Bertram met Sanders some five years ago when she came to take parenting classes with the organization. She continues to be impressed with Sanders’ drive to make a successful life for herself and her two children.
“She took so much initiative herself,” Bertram said. “She’s such a forward-thinking individual and totally confident and willing to accept any help given to her.”
Bertram recalls when Sanders participated in an eight-week “Mom and Me” program that helps improve literacy skills. She was the only one at that time who took all of the classes and practiced skills at home.
“We get a lot of calls, and we don’t have funding for utilities, rent and so forth, but we try to refer them and connect them to resources,” said Bertram, who encourages citizens to volunteer with the Salvation Army and other organizations that assist local families. “We are cognizant of the needs of families who are in special situations, like single parents who are involved in resource courts, parents raising small children and the homeless. We are letting people know what they can do to help.”
“I’ve been trying to get more people to go get help instead of the route I took.”Crystal Sanders
Newton Family Connection led Sanders to facilitate training and reading events in conjunction with the Newton County Health Department. She also promotes the program to her neighbors and other parents she meets at the health department and elsewhere.
“We invited her to go and be a leader to teach us to be successful,” Bertram said.
In addition, Sanders participated in the Bridges Out of Poverty program with the Newton County School System. It pairs members of the low-income community with a middle-class mentor to help them learn about and coordinate resources. “She’s truly a competent and dedicated worker,” Bertram said, “and she is so dedicated to her kids.” Sanders, who dropped out of high school in Kentucky during her senior year, admits she now has a better understanding of navigating her future using resources in the community.
“I see what resources that I qualify for,” she said, “and I hope more families will get connected to assist them in ways I never knew.”
Sanders struggled to pass multiple sections on the GED test and later discovered it was due to a previously undiagnosed learning disability. When she began to take GED courses again, she learned that she had enough high school credits to exempt the exam. A new state program allows passing Georgia Piedmont Technical College students to bypass the GED test through a certificate program.
“I was thrilled and overjoyed,” Sanders said. “The GED test hinders so many people that drop out of high school, and so many [leaders] don’t focus on the reasons that they drop out. They may be frustrated or have a shortcoming, so people drop out [without] getting the help they really need or knowing they have an issue.”
Once Sanders completes her certificate program, she hopes to secure a long-term job, possibly in computer science. She also wants to find stable housing for her family and strongly encourages her daughter to finish high school.
“I want her to be guided,” Sanders said. “She can figure out her career pursuits she wants to embark on when she gets out of high school.”
Sanders joins Bertram in nudging others toward volunteering wherever they can.
“I’ve been trying to get more people to go get help instead of the route I took,” said Sanders, who linked arms with Newton Family Connection through the housing authority. “A lot of people at that age think they know everything, but if you don’t have a trade or a paper, you won’t get to the other side.”
Newton Family Connection helps foster and adoptive families, people in emergency situations and anyone who needs assistance with food, housing, utilities, transportation or other resources. The group facilitates connections between citizens and helpful organizations in and around the community. It welcomes volunteers and invites people to learn more by visiting www.nwtnfamilyconnection.org.