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Crystal Lovelady spent 1 1/2 years in Alabama's Foster Care System.

Columbia University is one of the finest schools in the country, if not the world. So when former foster youth Crystal Lovelady encountered the question “Can anyone actually identify with foster care? Does it really represent something Columbia should research?” from a fellow student, she knew that being more vocal in her advocacy for foster youth and foster care had to be a primary mission in her life. She feels that the best way to combat ignorance and apathy “is to share our stories, contact our representatives, be involved in the foster care community and support our peers long after their transition or adoption.”

How does Crystal know how important it is to advocate for youth in care? While in foster care herself, she attended four high schools in two years. She lived in one group home, two foster homes, and then finally with her grandmother. Many of Crystal's credits did not transfer to her last high school due to her frequent relocation and abundance of half-credits, so she dropped out of high school and received her GED at 17.

She became the first in her family to receive a college degree when she graduated with her AA from Lone Star College - Montgomery in 2010, and now currently attends Columbia University's School of General Studies. Prior to foster care, she moved frequently in her elementary and middle school years moving between family members and once in a homeless shelter with her mother.

Crystal was an unexpected child for her young unmarried parents, who both struggled with drug addiction and maintaining steady employment. Her parent's relationship came to a close after her mother was hospitalized for battery and rape, and thereafter accused her father for raping her when Crystal was a baby. Her father was in jail for a separate charge of assault with a firearm during most of her young life, and her mother spent time in an in-patient rehabilitation facility, but Crystal was still not placed into care until she was much older.

When she was 12, she moved in with her father in Alabama, and subsequently moved at least five times (that she can recall), mostly living with other people. She even tried to contact the Department of Human Resources to let them know the things her father was doing, but they didn’t get involved until the police had to be called when she was 15.

Foster care group living represented a welcome respite. And so throughout Crystal’s higher education, she’s been involved in numerous volunteer efforts, many—but not all—focused on improving the situations of youth in foster care. She is currently the Vice President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Columbia University and volunteers with Washington Heights Corner Project and Community Impact. She served as Lone Star College’s Environment Club president, an officer in Phi Theta Kappa (the international honor society for junior colleges), and a delegate at the National Model United Nations in 2010.

She tutored students and community members at LSC and participated in fundraising and collection drives for organizations such as the United Way, Toys for Tots, and Montgomery Women’s Shelter. Prior to attending college, she volunteered on food, clothing, and toy drives and collected back-to-school supplies to help foster children. Crystal has worked on an online presence in the foster care community about important acts related to foster youth, and she’s proving that foster care really is something that Columbia University should care about by preparing a paper entitled titled

“The Battered American Child: Perceptions of and Legislation Against Child Abuse in America Then and Now,” that she is submitting for publication. She is focusing on Inequality and Children's Rights in her undergraduate career as a Sociology major. Upon graduation, Crystal hopes to receive her masters in Social Work and Social Policy.

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