FROM DESPAIR TO DIPLOMA:
UMHB student walks a new road now
By Miranda Bradley
Texas Baptist Children's Home & Family Services
BELTON–Crystal Caswell considers herself one of the least likely people ever to make it to college this fall.
Not only has she entered the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor with more than $10,000 in scholarship assistance, she has a new perspective on life, thanks to the ministry of another Baptist agency just down I-35 in Round Rock.
One of eight children born to a drug-addicted mother and an alcoholic father, Caswell often was beaten for simple things. By the time she was 9, she said, she prayed for Child Protective Services to take her and her siblings away from their abusive home.
“I just got tired of being hit for dropping an empty cup on the floor or leaving the refrigerator door open,” she said.
Finally, she was placed in foster care for three years–one and one-half years at one home, and then one and one-half years at her next home, where later she was adopted.
The foster mother who adopted her put up an outward front of love, she said, but only to gain approval for the adoption papers. “As soon as those papers were signed, she made it clear she didn't like me. She even told me she didn't want me; she just wanted my brothers.”
Caswell began concentrating heavily on schoolwork to avoid confrontations with her new mother, sometimes even skipping meals so she wouldn't have to eat dinner with her. Around her sophomore year, the abuse at her home caused even that crutch to crumble. She failed her 10th grade year, causing her to repeat it the following fall.
Throughout her three-year stay with her adopted mother, Caswell ran away dozens of times, trying to avoid the pain and confusion of her home life.
“The cops knew me very well, not because I was destructive or anything, but because I ran away so much,” she said. “I just didn't want to be where someone didn't want me.”
Finally, Caswell decided she would run and way and never come back. She packed her bag and hit the road, eventually stopping to call the runaway hotline. After a short stay in temporary housing, she was brought to Texas Baptist Children's Home, a ministry supported partially through gifts to the Baptist General Convention of Texas Cooperative Program.
She was 16 years old and on the brink of security for the first time in her life.
“I was a little scared at first,” she recalled. “That went away when I met my house pop. That day I went to sleep because I was so tired, and I woke up with five faces standing over me.”
Her new brothers and sisters wanted to meet the addition to their family. One of them was Selinia, Caswell's new roommate, now her close friend.
The change of scenery brought a change of heart as well.
“At first, I just thought God was not on my side,” she said. During family devotions, she huddled in a corner, rolling her eyes. Now, she reads the Bible daily, thanks to the influence of a youth conference she attended as a junior.
“It just opened up everything for me. Now, instead of blaming (God), I'm thanking him for helping me through everything I've been through.”
Now she has left the children's home for a new chapter in her life, as a freshman at UMHB, also a BGCT institution.
She still can't believe she received more than enough scholarship assistance to cover her tuition and books for the first year.
“Before I came here, college was something I thought was only a dream,” she said. “It would never happen to me. Now, it's real. I'm going to college.”
Unfortunately, she has no false hopes of support from her adopted mother or her biological mother. Recently, she contacted her biological mother out of curiosity. It was a bitterly disappointing moment.
“She didn't even remember me,” Caswell reported. “When I told her I was going to college, she sounded surprised.”
Without the help of Texas Baptists, Caswell believes she certainly would have followed her mother's path.
“If I hadn't come to TBCH, I know I would be strung out on some sort of drugs now,” she said. “I'm very thankful I came here. It saved my life.”
In a strange twist of fate, the girl who once could care less for other people hopes to make caring for them her life's work. At UMHB, she plans to study nursing.
“I like making people smile,” she said. “It's important to me to take care of people because so many people here have taken care of me.”