A few years ago, Krystal Edwards had a choice to make. She could face a few fears and join a program that promised to prepare her for college or give in to insecurities and walk away.
Now 18, she is graduating from Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and heading to college on a four-year scholarship. She describes that path with a sense of wonder. Much of her success she attributes to one thing: the impact of Crossroads for Kids, the mentoring and college preparatory program she joined five years ago.
At the time, getting involved took a leap of faith. “The Krystal before Crossroads, she was scared of what people thought of her, of doing something out of the ordinary,” she said recently. “The Krystal today, she’s going to college. She’s a bright girl who knows what she wants.”
A few years ago, she was growing up in a neighborhood where her mother barely let her outside. Trouble seemed to lurk everywhere.
“I was trying to find myself, but with all this negativity around me, I couldn’t,” she said. “I found myself here at Crossroads. I felt acceptance. That’s all I ever needed . . . someone or a group of people to accept me, and that’s exactly what I got.”
Crossroads For Kids works with about 700 youths, mainly in middle or high school. Most of them are from Boston, though there is also a big contingent from Brockton. Students go to summer camp, work on community service projects together, and tour college campuses. As much as anything, they get a sense of what their lives can become.
They are recommended by guidance counselors, but that doesn’t mean they are all-star students when they enter.
“What we’re really looking for is kids who probably are not going to unlock their potential without some support,” said Deb Samuels, executive director of the program. “Usually they have significant challenges. We’re looking for kids who have a lot to overcome.”
Even in her early teens, Krystal could see that not all of her friends were destined to make it. One in particular was recommended for Crossroads at the same time that she was but declined to apply. She thinks now about how different their lives have become.
“I just found out he’s in jail,” she said. “I’m like, ‘You could have been going to college and planning big things. You could have made your mom proud.’ I know his struggle. He’s just around the wrong people.”
Crossroads is a 77-year-old program that was known years ago as Camp Wing. It was begun by the Boys’ Club of Boston, though it became independent decades ago. The current focus on “at-risk” youth became its mission about 15 years ago.
According to Samuels, about 90 percent of the graduates of the program this year have been accepted to college, a far higher rate than their peers. “It really is a stark reminder that, given the right support, kids’ lives can be very different,” she said.
Krystal was part of a group that traveled to Washington this spring to work on an antibullying program they had designed. They spent a week working in youth centers, encouraging kids to accept themselves and stand up for themselves. Basically, they were spreading the message they have learned themselves.
Krystal will be the first member of her immediate family to attend college. “My mother had the grades, but she couldn’t afford it,” she said. “My grandmother couldn’t afford it. My mother told me recently that her fear was that I’d end up on the streets.”
Instead she is headed for Union College in Schnectady, N.Y., on a four-year scholarship she won through the Posse Foundation. She said she plans to pursue a career helping youth like herself.
“I don’t have to be rich,” she said. “I just want to be part of someone’s life and help them. Every kid deserves the opportunity I’ve had.”