Crystal's Head Start Journey

Crystal Davis Ghee Kelly Tristen
Crystal’s journey hasn’t always been an easy one, but her self-determination and utilization of SENCA resources has helped her successfully raise her children and create a better life for her and her family.

Crystal’s childhood was anything but typical.  She grew up in a home with a mother who was an alcoholic and couldn’t keep a job, therefore the family relied on government assistance to help provide basic needs.  Unfortunately, even then, Crystal’s family often found themselves in homeless situations.  

The oldest of four children, Crystal took care of her three younger brothers the best way she could.  Eventually the four children ended up spending two and a half years in foster homes until their mother passed away.  Sadly, as in similar situations, the children were unable to stay together as a family.  

The years passed by and the children eventually grew up, yet the lingering shadow of their childhood seemed to follow them into their adult lives.  “As an adult I struggled with low paying jobs, overwhelming bills, divorce and being a single mother,” comments Crystal.  “I resisted help because I did not want the stigma of being on welfare. In the end, however, our family’s need became too great and I began receiving Medicaid and food stamps.” Crystal goes on to share “There were times when I thought things would never get better, but I continued to hope that a better day would come.”

Crystal heard about Southeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership (SENCA) programs and services when she experienced an emergency situation and needed help paying for rent and utilities.  Then in 2001, when her oldest child was getting ready to celebrate their 3rd birthday, a friend told her about SENCA Head Start, a program that provides comprehensive services for children age 3 to 5 and their families. Eventually each of Crystal’s children, now ages 22, 18 and 10 participated in SENCA Head Start.  

“Having my children attend Head Start was beneficial for all of us,” shares Crystal. “I definitely needed a break from daycare expenses and just some “me” time. However, most importantly, each of my children benefitted from being taught many skills that helped them be ready for and successful in kindergarten.”

Head Start is just one of a variety of essential programs SENCA offers to economically challenged households throughout southeast Nebraska.  Typically individuals and families who utilize one or more of the agency’s programs will benefit from other available resources.  This was especially true for Crystal and her family when they were experiencing some difficult times.  “Head Start staff told me about the holiday program that was available through the local outreach office.  I applied and was approved for the program which provided Christmas gifts for the children and a food basket that supplied our family with a much needed, and appreciated, holiday meal,” comments Crystal. 

Crystal is grateful for everything SENCA has done to assist her and her family, so in 2016 when the job opening for a cook at the Falls City Head Start came along she jumped at the opportunity and was hired for the position. Then in the summer of 2019 Crystal found her life on a new path when she accepted the teacher aide position at the Nebraska City Full Day Head Start. This move brought another positive change to Crystal’s life. She is now happily married and enjoying living in the home she and husband Kelly purchased after utilizing SENCA’s Homebuyer Education program for first-time homebuyers.

From client to employee Crystal’s life has been impacted by SENCA.  “Being employed with SENCA has given me a lot of fulfillment. Having a steady income allowed us to eliminate our need for Medicaid and food stamps,” shares Crystal. “I love that I can give back to the agency and help someone else in need.”